With so much debate around the seeming return of Measles - in part spurred by those who were not vaccinated, and putting more at risk, many friends have reminded me of this statement about the impact of Measles on childrens literature author Roald Dahl, who lost his daughter in 1962. He penned this letter to parents in 1986, Republished in 1988 as below to note her loss. http://www.roalddahlfans.com/articles/meas.php
Olivia, my eldest daughter, caught measles when she was seven years old. As the illness took its usual course I can remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling particularly alarmed about it. Then one morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn't do anything.
"Are you feeling all right?" I asked her.
"I feel all sleepy," she said.
In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.
The measles had turned into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That was twenty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her.
On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs. They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered. Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.
It is not yet generally accepted that measles can be a dangerous illness. Believe me, it is. In my opinion parents who now refuse to have their children immunised are putting the lives of those children at risk. In America, where measles immunisation is compulsory, measles like smallpox, has been virtually wiped out.
Here in Britain, because so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be immunised, we still have a hundred thousand cases of measles every year. Out of those, more than 10,000 will suffer side effects of one kind or another. At least 10,000 will develop ear or chest infections. About 20 will die.
LET THAT SINK IN.
Every year around 20 children will die in Britain from measles.
So what about the risks that your children will run from being immunised? They are almost non-existent. Listen to this. In a district of around 300,000 people, there will be only one child every 250 years who will develop serious side effects from measles immunisation! That is about a million to one chance. I should think there would be more chance of your child choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming seriously ill from a measles immunisation.
So what on earth are you worrying about? It really is almost a crime to allow your child to go unimmunised.
The ideal time to have it done is at 13 months, but it is never too late. All school-children who have not yet had a measles immunisation should beg their parents to arrange for them to have one as soon as possible.
Incidentally, I dedicated two of my books to Olivia, the first was 'James and the Giant Peach'. That was when she was still alive. The second was 'The BFG', dedicated to her memory after she had died from measles. You will see her name at the beginning of each of these books. And I know how happy she would be if only she could know that her death had helped to save a good deal of illness and death among other children.
As the parent of an autistic child, I wanted to add a little something to this - more below the fold.
Over the last few years, a pervasive hysteria has grown, linking the use of vaccines to maladies without any scientific basis or real study. This linkage has led seemingly rational people to make irrational decisions. More importantly, for those of us in the autism community, anti-vaxxer advocates have done considerable harm to real research that may help those with autism. http://healthland.time.com/2014/03/04/nothing-not-even-hard-facts-can-make-anti-vaxxers-change-their-minds/
“Disease Risks” and “Autism Correction” had slightly better results, but neither seemed to convince parents. And while “Autism Correction” proved to some parents that there’s no link between vaccines and autism, it produced a strong backlash in others that just reinforced their sense that vaccinations are a conspiracy theory. Only 45% of the already anti-vaccine parents said they would vaccinate after they saw the “Autism Correction” message, compared to 70% of the control group.
Autism is a baffling and difficult to grasp problem that causes many a parent a sleepless night. The need to find a reason - any reason - for autism is gutwrenching, a question parents ask each other: 'why did this happen'. The fixation on conspiracy theory-laden anti-vaccination themes, though, is one of the most harmful for real research. By portraying autism as a matter of a modern fluke due to vaccines that have been around for decades without similar past results we aren't just anti-vaccine, we start to be anti-finding real answers. Because the range of autism is very wide - thus why we call it a spectrum - the inbuilt need to equate all of it as having a single root forces far too many autistic parents to step back and say 'no, it wasn't a vaccine', and it puts too many children in the role of being seen as 'permanently damaged' by those who want the vaccine theory to be true. Think about this: the anti-vaccine movement is telling you they would rather risk the death of their child rather than an unbelievable longshot - even in their own, non-scientifically supported view - of autism. Even those who believe that vaccines=autism acknowledge that in their fever dream of non-science that the impact is a small percentage. But that small percentage is so scary to them that their child's death is OK to avoid the risk of autism. Talk about a stigma to put on those with autism. There is a saying amongst Scientologists - yes, those kooky L Ron Hubbard followers - "If it isn't the truth for you, it isn't true for you." This circular argument basically means: if you don't believe it, no matter how many people tell you it is the truth, you have no reason to accept it. That is the world view of the anti-vaccination followers. But any parent who has read James and the Giant Peach, or any of Dahl's other works can appreciate a man who lost his child due to illness we can now prevent.
Update Thanks to all for so many shares. I made a minor update above because some people were confused that Dahl had lost his daughter very recently. It was published in 1988, which is apparently when it was written, his daughter passed on decades prior .. but it is tragic that his words have the air of truth today.. lessons we sometimes forget.