And just like that, it's here. Ebola. The awful, but still-on-the-other-side-of-the-world-in-a-far-away-place-so-I-don't-have-to-worry-about-it, ugly virus. One person. One plane ride. One day. That's all it took. Shows just how small our world is, doesn't it?
It seems that this case will most certainly be contained, that the people who were around the ill gentleman are being observed appropriately, and that there is no cause for panic. But what if that weren't the case? What if he exposed the entire airplane full of people who then went on to their destinations and exposed dozens, if not hundreds, of others? What if this were the beginning of an epidemic? As horrid as this virus sounds--you can read about it on your own, but let's just say hemorrhaging from multiple places in your body is never fun--there is good news. Ebola is not contagious before the person is sick. So the airplane was safe. It also isn't spread through the air, so those who happened to be near him somewhere when he sneezed or coughed are also ok. It is spread by close contact with body fluids, so anyone caring for him as he is ill can take the necessary precautions and remain relatively sure of their health. So, no worries, right? We can slowly exhale, let out that breath we've been holding, move on with life while Ebola remains a problem only 'over there'.
Or can we?
Is there maybe something we could learn from this? (I'm not even addressing the disparity between medical care here and there--that's for another day.)
The last few weeks have held for me a big discussion about our children's safety, health, and care. Sparing the details, it has been a frustrating time of seeing how skeptical people are of me and my profession. They don't believe me or the science behind what I say, I get frustrated that they believe Dr. Google or their Facebook friends' opinions more than those of us who have gone to school to learn about this stuff, tempers flare, and heart rates go up.
Let's take the gloves off for a minute.
Now, recent studies show that simply stating facts or scientific evidence isn't a good way to discuss an emotional issue. So, let's think through a scenario.
Say Ebola was just the same awful virus that it is--again, read it on your own, I don't want to put those details here. Let's give it a few differences, though. We'll call it Ebolo. Say it was highly contagious-easily spread through air simply by being near someone who had it. Say it was even contagious a day or two before they showed symptoms. And what if it were even more dangerous and lethal in children than in adults. And, like Ebola--Ebolo is hugely lethal with no cure. You have already seen friends, neighbors and maybe family members succumb to this terrible disease. Scary, right?
Now, what if some genius, in the midst of the outbreak that is spreading across the country like wildfire, comes out with a cure--or even better--a prevention?
Want your kids to have it?
No doubt every parent would say yes!! Absolutely!!
Here comes the statement that will cause many of you to stop reading, but please bear with me.
THIS IS WHAT A VACCINE DOES.
Back to the science/logic argument. (Because, sorry, that's how my brain works.) Science is not infallible, but it is reproducible. An object will fall to the ground when dropped. Every single time. Our world is created with order. We have been given the intellectual ability to discover and understand that order. Some people (who are much smarter than me) are able to do this genuine research to study the order in creation. To study health. To study illness. To study bacteria and viruses. To understand that penicillin will kill bacteria. To make an effective, safe, life saving vaccine. What a gift.
Through a series of unfounded statements and non-reproducible experiments, people like Andrew Wakefield and Jenny McCarthy have unraveled years of progress. And it came in a time when the effectiveness of vaccines was so good that this generation of parents has no fear of the illnesses they are protecting against. Ask your grandparents about polio. Ask any pediatrician about meningitis. They should be feared.
In recent years, our country has developed pockets of children who are so under-vaccinated that it rivals sub-sarahan Africa. Where there is NO medical care. We used to take trips to poor, inner city areas to vaccinate children who had fallen through the cracks. Now we would need to go to upscale areas in California and New York.
We are asking for a disaster.
Now, read this--I completely believe that parents who choose to not vaccinate are TRULY doing what they think is best for their child(ren).
But how those decisions are made is what I am continually frustrated about. 'Doing research' doesn't mean Googling 'childhood vaccines'. It doesn't mean talking to a friend or family member who has a child with autism. It doesn't mean making a decision on emotion/feeling/gut.
'Doing research' means just that. Research. And it's been done. Vaccines are safe. Vaccines protect children against dreadful diseases. Period. Are there side effects? Yes. Very rarely. 1 in 1 million. Do shots hurt? Of course. Do kids cry and parent feel sad for them. Yes. Do these same illnesses still threaten our children? Yes! Is the risk high in the US? That depends--if we have good vaccine rates, no. But the lower and lower they go, we are starting to see outbreaks. Aren't some of these diseases rare in the developed world? Yes. So is Ebola. One plane ride away. Are some of these hugely more contagious? Absolutely. A coughing adult can infect a baby with whooping cough which can be deadly in infancy, contagious before signs of illness present, etc.
I'm not going to give all of the science and list each disease/vaccine, but I just had to say...
Will we ignore this or will we learn something from it? Could this case of Ebola appearing in the US cause us to take a look at the decisions we make for those we love? Can we get away from making decisions on emotion and truly use science and fact? Could we prevent some children from getting very sick or dying from preventible diseases? Could it be your child? So, in reality, could Ebola save your child's life?