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That anti-vaccine utopia? We've been there, and it's a nightmare.

PolioMumpsDiseases and Illnesses
A reader reminds the anti-vaccine crowd: People once died from diseases we no longer fear
Autism looms large for today's parents; the diseases that vaccines prevent do not

Humanity has benefited immensely from vaccines, and in many ways vaccines have been victims of that success. The backlash to the documentary by Carlsbad High students on the vaccine debate (and don’t let the word “debate” imply a false equivalency), reported in The Times by Eryn Brown, bears that out.

A letter we received (more on that later) in response to the article paints a grim picture of a world not long ago where it wasn’t unusual for children and adults to die from polio and other diseases, a reality people today are spared thanks to decades of universal immunization against these plagues. Perhaps because child funerals today are thankfully a rare occurrence and we don’t see too many kids in wheelchairs or on crutches after “beating” a paralysis-causing disease, the urgency of vaccinating our children on schedule is less apparent.

Vaccines have been so successful that making the case for continued immunization is like asking an atheist to prove that God doesn’t exist: No, I can’t prove that my two kids haven’t come down with measles, mumps or rubella because of a shot they received last year.

Autism is another story. Parents today are bred to fear it, and for good reason. There is no “cure” for the affliction, only years of demanding therapy that promise varying degrees of success. Many people with autism go on to live productive lives; your children might not.    

And it’s everywhere (1 in 68 children, to be precise). My own twins — about 2 1/2 years old — show no signs of autism, but I know parents with children who do. Other parents in my small social circle tell of families living with autism. These aren’t the nameless subjects of peer-reviewed studies; sure, those might carry great scientific weight, but they lack the emotional impact of firsthand or secondhand stories.

New parents are a fragile bunch, and when it comes to our children’s health, we crave what a responsible doctor or scientist may not be able to provide to our satisfaction: answers. This is where the Jenny McCarthys and the RFK Jrs. come in and force the dots to connect: Put those poisonous, un-“green” vaccines inside your children’s bodies and risk afflicting them with autism.

Thankfully, the McCarthy-RFK Jr. crowd is wrong, and parents can continue to vaccinate their children on schedule, confident that they’re doing their little ones and everyone else a favor.

But as you’ve probably heard, the anti-vaccine movement is having some success (if you can call it that), risking the herd immunity that affords even the non-immunized some protection. This is why it helps to be reminded, once again, of the suffering endured by generations of people for whom vaccines weren’t an option. Werner Herzog might even consider dusting off his camera to tell the stories of lives cut down by vaccine-preventable diseases, much like he did with his chilling piece on texting and driving.

In the meantime, reader Chris Daly of Yucaipa sent us a letter recounting what he witnessed as a child. His punitive solution to the anti-vaxxer threat at the end of his letter goes too far for me (feel free to debate it in the comments area), but it speaks volumes about the seriousness of this issue.

Here is Chris Daly’s letter:

Those upset by the Carlsbad High production “Invisible Threat” likely grew up in a world made safe by the immunizations they oppose. 

A good chuck of my first-grade class contracted polio; three kids spent time in an iron lung, four had permanent disabilities and one died. All had to repeat first grade. Another two have hearing problems due to the mumps. The list goes on.

Parents were so fearful of polio that they volunteered their children for the trials of the Salk vaccine. Once it became widely available, the lines went around the block to be immunized. Getting those who grew up “safe” to comprehend the dread we lived with is as impossible as a bird explaining flying to a mole — there is no common frame of reference. 

If the anti-immunization crowd were only endangering themselves and their children, their behavior would be unfortunate but not a problem. However, their actions are lowering the immunization rates to the point where we are in danger of loosing the herd immunity. This is where there are enough people immunized that an outbreak is unlikely and those unable to be immunized — infants, pregnant women, organ recipients and others — are protected.  

Those opposing immunizations should be charged with voluntary manslaughter.

Follow Paul Thornton’s Twitter feed @PaulMThornton

Copyright © 2014, Los Angeles Times
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