I was thinking about writing about the Greek debt crisis tonight – about falling world stock markets, the possible break up of the Eurozone and an economic meltdown that makes the credit crunch look like a walk in the park.
But I must confess that I’m struggling to get my head around it – especially the idea that there is no alternative to austerity. I just don’t buy it.
Anyway, instead I’ll write about something I do understand, something that is much closer to home. Vaccinations in general and the MMR in particular – which in case you’re wondering, is a combined injection to prevent measles, mumps and rubella.
Today I took child no 3 for his MMR (and two other booster injections). The sight of a baby’s face when a nurse stabs a series of needles into its little arms or legs is never a happy one.
You feel terrible guilt for taking this small innocent creature along to a place where you know he or she will experience moments of searing pain.
I may think there are alternatives to austerity, but when it comes to getting your child vaccinated, in my opinion there is no alternative – that is, unless the child has a serious medical complaint that would be aggravated by the injection.
Universal vaccination programmes have wiped out diseases that killed millions of children in the past – from TB to polio to diptheria and meningitis.
This article tells the story of John, paralysed by polio as a teenager and kept alive by an artificial breathing machine or iron lung.
Here is an image of the iron lung
The misery of polio and subsequent treatment in such a contraption has been rendered permanently obsolete by a simple vaccination. How amazing is that? However, rotten our world may be in many, many ways, the medical discoveries we all take for granted are something to be genuinely grateful for.
Indeed, no one really questioned vaccination for children at all (apart from a scare involving the whooping cough vaccine in the 70s), until some dubious research appeared in 1998, by Dr Andrew Wakefield, linking the MMR vaccine with autism. His claims centred round claims that bowel disorders connected with autism (discovered in a handful of children) were the result of the MMR vaccine.
In 2005, research was published categorically refuting Wakefield’s claims:
while in 2010, Wakefield was struck off from the medical register after the GMC found him guilty of professional misconduct:
The whole affair has been chronicled extremely well by Dr Ben Goldacre, who rightly focuses on the role the MEDIA played in the creation of the scare around the vaccine.
As Goldacre rightly points out, the scare really gained momentum when Cherie Blair refused to answer questions as to whether baby Leo
had been given his MMR. If the MMR wasn’t good enough for Leo, then was it safe for the rest of us? By the way, if you’ve just eaten, please shield your eyes from the rather frightening image I’ve just included…
As it happens, Cherie revealed in her subsequent autobiography that Leo HAD been given the vaccine, so all the fuss and rumours and damage done to a public health campaign were for nothing.
So why does the MMR matter so much? Basically, the vaccine is important because not only does it stop children from contracting illnesses that can cause great discomfort (in the case of mumps and rubella) or dangerous in the case of measles, it also protects pregnant women.
Exposure to the rubella virus in pregnancy can be extremely harmful to the foetus and result in babies being born deaf, blind and with learning difficulties. The danger is especially intense in the first few months of pregnancy; this is also the time that women often do not tell the world they are pregnant out of fear of miscarriage. Pregnant women are often in the company of small children so it is vital that those children have been immunised against rubella as soon as possible to prevent damage being done to the unborn child.
But surely, you may say, only a few nut jobs would seriously buy into Wakefield’s theory and only stupid people believe the half baked ‘health stories’ in the Daily Mail.
In 2002 – at the height of the scare – only 61 per cent of parents were giving their babies the MMR in some areas of London. This lead to the a mumps epidemic in 2005 and over 400 cases of measles in 2006.
Child no.1 was born in 2005 at the height of the controversy and quite a lot of his peers (in trendy North London) did not receive the vaccination. I remember seeing a baby with measles around that time and feeling rather angry with her mother; a child was suffering as a result of parental ignorance and pig-headedness. It all seemed a bit stupid. To put it mildly.
The other thing I discovered is that the MMR scare prevented the NHS from offering a vaccine that would save millions of children from untold misery.
In the US (and many other countries) it is routine to have children vaccinated against chickenpox and before the MMR scandal blew up, the NHS were thinking of offering it to British children for free.
I actually paid to have child no.2 vaccinated – and will do the same for number 3 when he is old enough. Their older brother got chickenpox TWICE – this can happen if a child has a very mild case as a baby. The first time it only consisted of a few spots but the second time the poor boy was in agony. He still has some mild scarring from it. Chickenpox may have a funny sounding name, but it is very, very nasty and if a vaccine can prevent it, then children should be offered it.
To conclude. Vaccines are one of the few really good things about being alive now, rather than in Victorian times. They save lives and although it’s nasty hearing your baby cry, you are doing the right thing by making sure your little ones get all their jabs.