The impact of not vaccinating children based on “personal beliefs” (i.e. science denialism) has come home to roost. The measles outbreak is growing exponentially due to the large numbers of unvaccinated people coupled with the extreme contagious nature of the disease. It can live on surfaces for 2 hours and a lot of people can ride Peter Pan in that time frame (never mind the crammed line).

One of the main battle cries of anti-vaccine doctors and their acolytes is that the measles is no big deal, but they are wrong. Here’s the thing, medicine doesn’t invest time and effort in things that are no big deal. Prior to the measles vaccine 48,000 people were hospitalized annually in the United States and 450 died.

Let’s put the severity of 450 deaths a year in perspective. Over nine years 32 children died from drop side cribs, that’s 3-4 a year, and because that number of deaths was considered significant and tragic companies can no longer make drop side cribs.

imgresRoald Dahl’s daughter, Olivia, died from the measles at the age of 7. His recounting of it and plea for vaccination is heartbreaking. If we are going to continue ridiculous personal exemptions then parents should be required to read his statement out loud in front of the child who isn’t going to get vaccinated to get the form signed. We make women read all kinds of things to get abortions, so the precedent is set.

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.


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.

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  1. Thank you for YOU facts. Here are mine: do not site ANY study to me without telling me what company funded the study.
    tell my WHY Thimerosal was removed from vaccines by the CDC. Tell me how, for so many years, tobacco and government said smoking was not harmful?
    Tell me please why there was a fund (that is now gone, thank you government) especially for children that will need lifelong care because of vaccines.
    Tell me why the rotovirus vaccine was put on the market as safe then within 6 months taken off for causing gastrointestinal blockages in babies? I got my child vaccinated with vaccines that have been proven safe and effective over a long period of time. Don’t you dare shame me on what is in the best interest of my son when it is clear no one has the best interest of our children at heart.

    1. Every study that I link to has information about funding. If you bothered to follow the links you would know that. The vast majority of safety data on the MMR that was produced to counter Wakefield’s lies if from national health agencies, like the CDC. You do know that Wakefield was funded by a lawyer and hoped to market his own version of the vaccine that he would sell as being “autism risk free?” Be very careful when you sling claims about bias because Wakefield has the biggest.

      I’m not sure why you would even bring tobacco up? How is that relevant in any way?

      Here’s the safety dat on rotavirus vaccine’s with links to studies etc. Click away.

      Thimerosal was removed because a concern (unfounded it appears) was raised and vaccination rates were dropping. Removing it has not affected any health outcomes.

  2. Dr S Humphries keeps blipping on my radar. she has a lot of followers reminiscent of Wakefield. Material for your blog? Not enough MD opinion out there about her theories and pseudoscientific presentations

  3. a modern perspective –

    Over the last 10 years, in the US, there have been zero (0) deaths attributable to measles.

    Over the same period, in the US, there have been one hundred eight (108) deaths attributable to measles vaccines.

    Source: CDC, VAERS database.

      1. And even if R’s claim was correct, it’s a meaningless statistic. What he should is compare the deaths prevented by the measles vaccine to those “caused” by the vaccine. If there have been zero deaths due to measles in 10 years, that’s a pretty strong argument in favour of the vaccine.

  4. Thanks for posting that, I’d no idea that Dahl’s daughter had died of measles.

    Many people don’t seem to realise what comparative risk is; Freakonomics has a bit on how many people avoided plane travel after 9/11, going by car instead, without being able to understand the risks of both.

  5. This measles thing sounds scary. I wish scientists would stop being so lazy and invent a cure, like maybe a shot or something.

    Seriously, well done, but I would add that for every death there’s around 1 person with horrible, long-term neurological problems, including SSPE.

  6. OMG. The stupidity of it all makes me weep.
    I had no idea he had suffered the loss of a child.
    I had measles around the same time.

  7. Heartbreaking.
    I had measles in the mid 1980s as a toddler. I think, at that time, it might have been before the age at which one is administered the vaccine.
    Thankfully i’m not left with any side affects of which I am aware.
    My siblings & I received all vaccines thereafter and we’re thankfully all in rude health.
    I would most certainly vaccinated any children of my own as soon as possible.
    The aspect of not vaccinating that really gets to me is that if you want to put your own child’s life in the balance, that’s one thing, but in not protecting your child, you put everybody else’s at risk too and that is unforgivable.

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