Toussaint column: Inoculated against anti-vaxxers by the school of hard knocks

Nicolette Toussaint

My pediatrician sister Melanie refuses to take anti-vaxxers into her medical practice. She says that inviting them into her waiting room would be tantamount to malpractice.

By contrast, Darla Shine, wife of the current White House communications director, has tweeted, “The entire Baby Boom population alive today had the #Measles as kids. Bring back our #ChildhoodDiseses. They keep you healthy & fight cancer.”

Wrong. I’m a boomer. I got measles. I remember my skin aflame, searing earaches and pneumonia. I had a fever so high it caused hallucinations and damaged the vestibulo-cochlear nerve in my ear.

The resulting hearing loss has impacted my entire life.

Unlike Texas State Rep. Bill Zedler, a Republican who is promoting legislation to allow parents to opt their kids out of vaccinations, I think measles is a big deal. Shine has said that “in Third World countries they’re dying of measles” but “with antibiotics and that kind of stuff, they’re not dying in America.”

Wrong. Antibiotics only work for bacterial infections. Measles is caused by a virus.

I wish there was a vaccination for ignorance. Largely because of myths spread through social media, the percentage of U.S. children younger than age 2 who haven’t received any vaccinations has quadrupled since 2000. In Zedler’s Texas, nearly 60,000 kids remain wholly unvaccinated. The World Health Organization ranks “vaccine hesitancy” among the world’s top 10 health threats for 2019.

Anti-vaccine sentiments seem prominent among health-conscious lefties, the sort of folks I count as friends. Given my personal experiences, I think I should be at least as assertive as my sister, but I hate getting trolled. I’m sure I’ll take flak for writing this column, but as one of my editors has said, “Isn’t that the job?”

So here goes: I strongly support laws that bar unvaccinated children from schools, as well as recreation programs, libraries and other public places.

Several of my friends think that vaccines contain dangerous chemicals (chiefly thimerosol and mercury) that cause autism. They also worry that vaccines are more dangerous than the diseases they’re designed to prevent.

That first set of fears has been thoroughly debunked. The autism claim came from a 1998 paper published in the medical journal Lancet. That paper was retracted due to serious procedural errors, undisclosed financial conflicts and ethical violations; its author lost his medical license.

A 2002 paper drawing on the same faulty research was also retracted. Since 2003, nine studies funded or conducted by the CDC “found no link between thimerosal-containing vaccines” and autism spectrum disorder (ASD), and “no link between the measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine” and ASD in children.

As to the second concern, I suspect that the American public has forgotten how serious childhood diseases really are. Measles not only can damage hearing, it can also cause blindness, pneumonia, encephalitis, and “immune amnesia,” a suppression of the immune system that causes kids to contract other infections for two or three years after having measles.

In 1960, three years before measles vaccine was introduced, there were 380 measles-related deaths in the U.S. Then, in 2000, U.S. health officials announced the elimination of measles. They badly miscalculated the impact of anti-vaxx propaganda.

According to CDC tabulations, since 2000, measles has been listed as a cause of mortality on 10 death certificates. The most recent was in Washington state in 2015, where an unvaccinated woman caught a fatal case when another person came into a medical facility and exposed her.

In 2016, the U.S. reported 86 measles cases, and in 2017, 118 cases. This year there have been five outbreaks — in New York, Texas and Washington state — totaling more than 120 cases.

Thanks to anti-vaxxers, whooping cough and mumps are also making a comeback.

Luckily for me, my mom was a registered nurse and insisted that I get vaccinations. (She would also threaten me with a fake “shot” if I tried to feign illness to stay home from school. That worked great; I’m terrified of needles.) Still, I got the polio, smallpox and tetanus vaccinations.

I was born too early for the mumps, measles, German measles and chicken pox vaccines. I got all those diseases.

Contrary to Ms. Shine’s opinions, none of them made me healthier — unless there are benefits to being unable to hear on cellphones or in shamefully hiding chest scars under high-necked blouses. I’m not pleased knowing that I harbor the threat of the painful rash called shingles, a decades-delayed symptom of having had the chickenpox virus.

Even though I’m still petrified of needles, I get vaccinated against shingles, the flu or pneumonia. I have been permanently inoculated against anti-vaxx propaganda by the school of hard knocks.

Nicolette Toussaint lives in Carbondale. Her column appears monthly in the Post Independent.

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