Of Measles, Clowns, and Creation

Because I couldn't find the one of two-year-old me showing off my bandages.

Because I couldn’t find the one of two-year-old me showing off my bandages.

The recent measles outbreak in the US made me recall a story from my parents’ courtship– when my dad got measles.  They were in graduate school, and often studied together at my mom’s apartment.  One night my dad came over and complained about this horrible headache (note, my dad is one of those men, who, when he voluntarily takes aspirin, you practically have to have the coffin ready); Mom took his temperature and sent him home.  The next morning he called and said he thought he had measles.  She went to his place, took one look, and said “yep.”  She had had them as a kid.  Thinking about it now, I realized that if Dad had measles in grad school, other people must have.  So I Googled it.  “Measles Outbreak Ohio Colleges 1989-91” came up so fast it was scary.

Like the current epidemic, this one was caused by a lack of vaccines, or I think, failure to take the booster, so immunities among children weren’t as strong.  And people my dad’s age, who had just missed the advent of the vaccine as kids and not caught in the meantime, were collateral damage.

My dad was horribly sick.  He ran a pretty high fever, had a constant headache, not to mention the rash.  When he started talking about the movie Killer Clowns from Outer Space, Mom almost called 911.  Later, when they bought their first VCR, one of the first tapes he bought was that movie– just to prove he hadn’t been delirious.  I don’t know whether measles is one of those diseases where it gets worse as you age, but apparently he had it pretty badly.  My mother, for her part, doesn’t even remember the period of time where she was sick with it as a kid.  And that’s saying something, given that my grandmother poured her into a bathtub full of cold water and ice to bring her fever down, and fed her nothing but ice-cream in order to keep weight on her (it was only partially successful, too).

Why the hell would anyone want to see their kids go through that?  Why would anyone be against preventing that?

I know the arguments.  “Vaccines cause autism.”  That’s bullshit.  That doctor was a fraud, and has a lot to answer for.  You can read up on that pretty much anywhere.

Also, if you’re so ableist that you’d rather risk the life of your child, other people’s children, and potential children (measles is often catastrophic for fetuses), instead of raising a child with a developmental disability then you probably should rethink some of your priorities.

Another argument I hear a lot is “it’s unnatural.”  Well, to quote The Lion in Winter, “What is natural?  Where poison toadstools grow, and babies are born with crooked backs, who are you to say what is natural!”  Indeed.  There’s a bit of speck and log there, but beyond that, we humans have been practicing immunization for hundreds, if not thousands of years.  The ancient Chinese came up with the earliest form of smallpox vaccine, and it was a variation of the nasal sprays sometimes used today.  If it wasn’t natural, very few of us would be here today.

“But something could go wrong!”  Yes.  Something could go wrong.  You could find out the hard way that your child is allergic to eggs when they go for a shot.  But they could just as easily find that out after gobbling down your scrambled eggs at breakfast.  They could have some other reaction to the vaccine, yes, but that can happen with any medical procedure.  One of my uncles almost died from a root canal.  I had a very nasty reaction to augmentin when I was a kid.  But he still goes to the dentist, and I still take antibiotics when necessary– just not in that family.  There’s risk attached to everything– you have to weigh it, but considering what our ancestors went through with measles, whooping cough, polio, and the like, vaccines are worth it.

And then there’s religious objections.  I’ll stick to Christianity for my criticism, since that’s where I’ve encountered this resistance.

God gave us brains!  We’re supposed to use them!  It’s part of taking care of creation– if we’re all dead from preventable diseases, we can’t be good stewards.  Though, I suppose, if we had used our brains as God intended, we’d still be in Eden.  Anyway… we’re supposed to pray and ask for divine help, yes, but we’re also supposed to take initiative and do what we can.  St. Paul issued a very harsh rebuke to one of his churches that just stopped working and started waiting for the end of the world.  That’s pretty close to not trying to solve any of our own problems and expecting the Trinity to do it all.

In other words… get your shots.  Get your children vaccinated.  Get your pets vaccinated.  We’ll all be happier and healthier for it, and Creation will be better tended.  Everyone wins.