I’ve always been puzzled by the anti-vaccine movement. As a former health care reporter in Maine and Vermont, I interviewed parents who declined to immunize their children. They struck me as generally well-meaning but misinformed when they insisted that the health risks of vaccinations outweighed the benefits, even when faced with scientific evidence to the contrary.
So I was pleased when, in 2015, Vermont lawmakers removed the philosophical exemption from immunizations otherwise required for children in day care through college – though the medical and religious exemptions are still in effect. In fact, both The PBS Newshour and The New Yorker have spotlighted Vermont in their reporting about the vaccine debate.
Some parents object to being called “anti-vax.” “We believe in choice,” they say. But the choices they make - allowing their kids to potentially infect others - mean that other parents can’t even take their babies safely out of the house - because the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella – MMR for short – usually isn’t given to children until they’re a year old.
Older people too, are vulnerable if their MMR shot has worn off - which is why I got the booster - with no adverse reaction - before setting off to greet my month-old grandson in Chicago last summer. On the way to my son’s house, I got a text from him. “Tell the driver to head for the hospital,” it said. “We’re in the ER. The baby has a fever and could have measles. It’s going around.”
Luckily, no spots appeared. But what a scare that gave us, for a full week.
Images of children with angry rashes in the Washington state outbreak are troubling. And I continue to worry that the youngest among us could become the innocent victims of needless contagion, before their parents can take steps to protect them.
One quote from Vermont’s epidemiologist Patsy Kelso keeps echoing in my head. Kelso told The Burlington Free Press just last August that “The virus is only a plane ride away.”