January 28, 2015
This is a guest post written by a fellow pediatric provider in our local healthcare community here in Arizona. I was extremely saddened to read of his children’s recent exposure to measles due the Disneyland outbreak. To read about my journey leaving the anti-vaccination movement, click here.
To the parent of the unvaccinated child who exposed my family to measles,
I have a number of strong feelings surging through my body right now. Towards my family, I am feeling extra protective like a papa bear. Towards you, unvaccinating parent, I feel anger and frustration at your choices.
By now we’ve all heard of the measles outbreak that originated in Disneyland. Or more accurately, originated from an unvaccinated person that infected other similarly minded vacationers. I won’t get into a debate about the whole anti-vaccine movement, the thimerisol controversy (no longer even used in childhood vaccines), or the myth that MMR causes autism (there are changes in autistic brain chemistry prior to birth).
Let’s talk measles for just a minute. It once was widespread in the US. It is now considered ‘eliminated’ in the US (not continually circulating in the population – only contracted through travel out of country). Measles is highly contagious (>90% infectious) and can survive airborne in a room and infect someone two hours later. Another fun fact is that measles is transmittable before it can be diagnosed – four days before the characteristic rash appears. “Measles itself is unpleasant, but the complications are dangerous. Six to 20 percent of the people who get the disease will get an ear infection, diarrhea, or even pneumonia. One out of 1000 people with measles will develop inflammation of the brain, and about one out of 1000 will die.” That sounds fun!
Calm down self.
I assume you love your child just like I love mine. I assume that you are trying to make good choices regarding their care. Please realize that your child does not live in a bubble. When your child gets sick, other children are exposed. My children. Why would you knowingly expose anyone to your sick unvaccinated child after recently visiting Disneyland? That was a bone-headed move.
Why does this effect me and mine? Why is my family at risk if we are vaccinating? I’m glad you asked.
Regarding measles, there are four groups of people.
All are represented in my family.
First, the MMR vaccine results in immunity for most who receive it. Two doses provides protection that can be confirmed with blood titers. My wife is in this group.
Second, about 3% of fully vaccinated children do not develop a lasting immune response. They have low blood titers and are not protected against measles. If exposed, this group will likely get the illness. I am in this group. I was thankfully not exposed.
Third, we have the unvaccinated. My son, Eli, is ten months old. He is too young to received the MMR vaccine and thus has no protection. Whether by refusal or because they are too young, exposed unvaccinated children have a 90% chance of getting measles.
Fourth, there are children like my Maggie. These are child who can’t be vaccinated. Children who have cancer. Children who are immunocompromised. Children who are truly allergic to a vaccine or part of a vaccine (i.e anaphylaxis to egg). These children remain at risk. They cannot be protected … except by vaccinating people around them. In August of 2014, Maggie was diagnosed with pre-B acute lymphoblastic leukemia, a form of childhood leukemia. We have been fighting leukemia since then.
Back to my story …
It was Wednesday. Maggie had just been discharged from Phoenix Children’s Hospital after finishing her latest round of chemotherapy. That afternoon she went to the PCH East Valley Specialty Clinic for a lab draw. Everything went fine, and we were feeling good … until Sunday evening when we got the call. On Wednesday afternoon, Anna, Maggie, and Eli had been exposed to measles by another patient. Our two kids lacked the immunity to defend against measles. The only protection available was multiple shots of rubeola immune globulin (measles antibodies). There were three shots for Maggie and two shots for Eli. They screamed, but they now have some temporary protection against measles. We pray it is enough.
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Unvaccinating parent, thanks for screwing up our three week “vacation” from chemotherapy. Instead of a break, we get to watch for measles symptoms and pray for no fevers (or back to the hospital we go). Thanks for making us cancel our trip to the snow this year. Maggie really wanted to see snow, but we will not risk exposing anyone else. On that note, thanks for exposing 195 children to an illness considered ‘eliminated’ from the U.S. Your poor choices don’t just affect your child. They affect my family and many more like us.
Please forgive my sarcasm. I am upset and just a little bit scared.
Phoenix Children’s Hospital has been great though this whole ordeal. We have done what is physically possible to protect our children. Now we pray. Please pray alongside us.
We are not currently contagious. Rest assured, if measles visits our house, it will not spread to anyone else.
Thank you for your prayers and support.
Dr. Tim Jacks, DO, FAAP is board certified by the American Board of Pediatrics and a fellow of the American Academy of Pediatrics. Originally from Elmhurst, Illinois, Dr. Jacks has lived in the greater Phoenix area for the past 25 years. When not working as a pediatrician, Dr. Jacks enjoys spending time with his wife and two children, running, playing with computers, exploring the great outdoors, and being involved at his church.