"Whenever I go into a restaurant, I order both a chicken and an egg to see which comes first"

Friday, March 28, 2014

Measles, Mumps, Chicken Pops, And The Anti-Vaccination Crowd

For anyone growing up in the Fifties, there were no vaccinations against childhood diseases, so everyone just got them.  Better to have them as a child than to suffer the horrible consequences of getting them in adulthood – like going blind or getting swollen testicles.

Every year an epidemic of childhood diseases swept the community.  Measles were the worst because you had to stay in a room with the shades down.  Of all the diseases you could get, it was definitely the worst. You could die from it.  As a result there were a lot of old wives’ tales around.  A favorite was this one: Take a cutting of hair from the sick child, put it between two pieces of buttered bread and feed the sandwich to the dog who would assume the disease, thus curing the patient.  Needless to say it never worked, but the old Italians on Franklin Square knew differently.  If their child still had the measles after the sandwich and the dog, it could only have been the wrong kind of dog, not the treatment itself.

The Swedes believed that a tea made from the bark taken from the north side of a cherry tree would cure measles, and every year the trees in Rogers Orchards were scarred and bleeding.  Bill Rogers knew exactly who was responsible, and confronted the Bergstroms – first politely and then more threateningly – every Spring before measles season.  Knut Bergstrom and his wife knew no English and didn’t need any because working at North & Judd required nothing more than showing up and keeping your fingers out of the hydraulic press.



So when Bill Rogers showed the Bergstroms pieces of bark from his cherry trees, they had no idea what he was talking about, but assumed that he was warning them of a particularly virulent measles season to come.  Rogers was almost as phlegmatic as the Bergstroms, so flying off the handle like this could only mean trouble.

The mumps were weird because your face swelled up and even a drop of lemon juice was misery.  Bobby Blantyre’s mother knew that he had the mumps when he jumped out of his chair at the first sip of the fresh lemonade she had made for him early one summer.

Chicken pox – or ‘pops’ as most kids called it – was the most fun, because it felt so good to scratch the itchy sores that appeared all over your body. You had to be careful to scratch around each pox and not tear off the scab (“You will be scarred for life”, my mother hollered when she saw me in an ecstasy of scratching and getting perilously close to the crusted whorl), but it was worth the risk.

Some kids had it worse than others.  Lila Steinberg had pops in her throat, and her sister told us she had them ‘down there’.  At six or seven we couldn’t even imagine what ‘down there’ looked like, let alone with chicken pox, and it might be disgusting; but we all asked her if we could have a look anyway.

Whooping cough was fun too.  The cough was as deep as a coal miner’s and after a few days you sounded like a bloodhound.  Billy Babbitt bayed at us from his bedroom window as we walked home from school.  We all barked back and riled up all the dogs on the block.

Polio was a different story.  The idea of spending your whole life in an iron lung was creepy.

Swimming pools and movie theatres were off-limits in the summer when polio seemed to strike the hardest; but it was always too nice out to see the double-features at the Palace, and everyone had grown out of the Saturday morning cowboy and Three Stooges matinees.  The pool at Stanley Quarter Park was always crowded with kids from the public schools who lived in four-story walk-ups near the factories, and most of us went away for the summer anyway, on family vacations to Maine or the Bay Islands; so pool time was not an issue.

All of which leads to the conspiratorial hype circulating about vaccinations.  There are now immunizations against all childhood illnesses and yet parents are refusing them on the grounds that they cause all kinds of worse problems like autism, brain cancer, and worse.  My favorite is this one:
With respect to the tracking issue, the government places miniscule tracking devices in these vaccinations. These tracking devices act as beacons for various satellites. In this way, similar to the technology found in controlling airplane traffic, the government knows where we are at all times. Indeed, it is unclear how much information is provided in these beacon devices. These beacons may, for example, provide rudimentary data, such as age, heart rate, blood pressure, or speed. They may also provide more detailed information, such as what we are saying at any given time.
This is not surprising because an online journalist from Tupelo, Mississippi had just written a series of articles on fluoridation and said that he wanted to warn people because more and more jurisdictions were adding the chemical to drinking water.  After a few minutes, however, I learned that he was not so much worried about the usual issues – cancer, mental retardation, early Alzheimer’s autism, and monkey tics – but about an even more pernicious effect. 

The Soviets had learned from captured Nazi scientists that fluoridation had unique properties of mind control – it made people more compliant and particularly responsive to political persuasion.  The Nazis had successfully fluoridated German water and that was why so many millions of otherwise normal people had become such rabid Nazis.  The Soviets wanted to accomplish the same thing, except this time to promote Communism; and had surreptitiously fluoridated water systems in the United States. 

At the same time spies and Soviet propagandists spread information about Communism.  The result was a whole decade of pro-Soviet American Communism. 
‘Tracking’, therefore, is not that weird.

Parents in many states are organizing chicken pox parties where children use the blankets, clothes, dishes, and stuffed animals of infected friends.  The idea is to get the disease early and avoid the painful complications of adulthood; and to avoid having to get vaccinations.

The idea of deliberately exposing your child to a potentially dangerous disease when a safe, sure, and proven vaccination is available seems wacko.   Here is a list of complications provided by the Centers for Disease Control:
Serious complications from chickenpox include
  • dehydration
  • pneumonia
  • bleeding problems
  • infection or inflammation of the brain (encephalitis, cerebellar ataxia)
  • bacterial infections of the skin and soft tissues in children including Group A streptococcal infections
  • blood stream infections (sepsis)
  • toxic shock syndrome
  • bone infections
  • joint infections
Some people with serious complications from chickenpox can become so sick that they need to be hospitalized. Chickenpox can also cause death.
Chicken pox is the least dangerous of all the childhood illnesses; so if infection parties were restricted only to this disease and to the remote outer islands of Puget Sound, no one would take much notice.  But there is a strong, unified, and insistent anti-vaccination movement in the United States which threatens the lives of millions – not just those children whose parents prefer a home-remedy DIY alternative.  Herd immunity is threatened when enough children are not vaccinated, and childhood diseases can come back with a vengeance.  Not vaccinating is not just a personal preference or individual statement.  It is an immoral act.

Or is it?  There are only a small number of anti-vaxxers in any community, and they will get measles and other childhood diseases once they reemerge.  They and their children will get sick while no one else does, and they presumably will learn from the experience after it is over.  In other words they are harming no one but themselves, for as long as dangerous, preventable diseases are around, most people will indeed prevent them.

The stance of anti-vaxxer true believers is a stand for individual liberty, religious rights; and a line in the stand against an intrusive, malevolent, untrustworthy government out to dominate, intimidate, and neuter its citizens.  They hate the government so much that they are willing to risk their children for their principles.



Over forty percent of Americans do not believe in Evolution; and more that 60 percent consider themselves Christian fundamentalists for whom the Bible is the ultimate authority on everything.  Seen within that context, the stridency and goal line stand mentality of the anti-vaccination minority is understandable. Political observers have noted that America is a divided country – rich-poor; urban-rural; black-white; gay-straight, etc. – but the biggest division is between those who use reason to make decisions and those who do not.  The twain will never meet.





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