Here’s a game of word association.
I say: Southern California.
Maybe you say: Disneyland. Hollywood. Beaches. Movie stars. Sunshine.
Now, go ahead and add Chad and South Sudan. No, these are not the latest celebrity baby names. We are talking about two developing African countries with low vaccination rates that equal some schools in sunny California. That’s right. Due to parents choosing willy-nilly to opt out of vaccinating their children, we now have vaccination rates in some of the wealthiest California cities that are on par with developing countries.
The difference of course is that in Africa its a matter of cost and access. In Southern California (and places like it, of wealth and access) its a matter of bad choices. And ego. And misinformation that spreads like wildfire among the “educated” and elite. I venture to guess that it has become almost like a badge of honor in some of these upper class schools to say that your child is unvaccinated — as though refusing vaccines makes you a better, smarter, more organic and wonderful parent. Maybe they pass out bumper stickers: “100% unvaccinated and proud” or “Disease not Vaccines” for the super cool parents to put on the back of the family BMW.
It is actually bizarre when you stop to think about it. You’ve got a bunch of well-off people, most of whom have worked hard to have money so they can live in a paradise of sunshine and blue skies and orange trees. Their kids have access to safe schools and most of the schools have money enough to have roofs and doors and windows. The water at home and school is clean (and if they would nonetheless rather pay for that $3.00 water bottle, they can afford it). The children have shoes. Maybe lots of shoes. And clothes. In the sort of-chilly southern California winter, they’ve got coats. They get fresh food. Probably organic fruits and vegetables. Low-fat meats with out antibiotics and hormones. All these steps are taken to ensure that their children are healthy and safe and just about as far away from the pangs of poverty as you can get.
But then, amidst all this healthy and wealthy living, when it comes to preventing disease, they purposefully put their kids on a dusty dirt road in the middle of South Sudan and say “good luck.” I am not exaggerating. These same schools with the high vaccination exemptions are — no surprise — in the same places where we have seen outbreaks of vaccine-preventable disease. This is because you must have a certain baseline level of immunization in a community in order to keep these diseases at bay. When too many kids have parents saying no to vaccines, they are setting their child, and their whole community, up for a disaster.
Most of you are serious about protecting your kids so you vaccinate them. But we are reaching the time when our own protective actions are being undermined by the screwed up, dangerous beliefs of the anti-vaccine movement. Vaccine preventable diseases are not cute, quaint relics of bygone days. They can be horrible and fatal illnesses. Babies can die from them and they are. It’s not a joke. It is not something that can be taken lightly.
These diseases can be prevented, but only through vaccination. Not through organic juice cleanses and not by drinking vitamin-laced water. We have enough reality television. We don’t need to add Hollywood: Battle of Deadly Infections to the mix.