Measles. It used to be just a disease. Now it’s become a banner under which politicians gather to threaten one of our most sacred rights – the right to give informed consent for medical treatment.
Whether you are for vaccines, against them, or neutral, allow me to ask this question: Is vaccination a medical treatment which should fall under the protection of informed consent, or does the government have the right to force them on every American?
As a pediatrician, I give patients the MMR vaccine almost every day in my office. And I follow the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control which mandate that I provide informed consent. The American Medical Association describes informed consent as a patient’s right of self-decision and a basic policy in both ethics and law that physicians must honor.
If vaccines were harmless to every single person who received them, then I could understand putting this decision in the hands of our elected officials. But here are two salient facts:
• About 2,000 severe reactions are reported to the CDC each year which result in prolonged hospitalization, permanent disability, or death. Most reactions aren’t even reported, so the true number may be even higher. Yet, because they can’t be proven, the medical community denies that they can happen.
• Over $3 billion have been paid out to victims of vaccine reactions. Not $3 million. Not $30 million. Not even $300 million. But $3 billion. Are we paying that much money to victims of pretend reactions? I think not.
You might think it’s the actual measles outbreak that is responsible for the current political hysteria. But it is not. Instead, it is a carefully crafted opportunistic attempt to overstate what measles could potentially do to our nation. It is what politicians, some media outlets, and some in the medical community are trying to portray measles to be. But let’s look at the actual facts of the current outbreak:
• As of Feb. 17, there are 141 cases nationwide. Not thousands. According to the Orange County Public Health Department, no new cases have been reported in the OC since Feb. 4.
• After the initial surge, it is now moving slowly. It is not spreading like wildfire in an exponential explosion of unprecedented proportion.
• Last year’s 640 cases were an anomaly because over 400 occurred in one Amish community in New York and over 100 cases hit an unvaccinated church community in Texas. But for the rest of highly-vaccinated America, last year’s measles was business as usual. This year we are off to a tough start, but it’s slowing down.
• It has killed no one. It can kill about 1 person in every 1000 cases. Will someone die of measles in the United States in the years to come? Maybe. But it hasn’t killed anyone in the past 15 years or more.
• The last time measles hit us hard was 25 years ago. Not last year, not this year, yet.
• It’s measles, people. It’s not the plague. It’s not polio. It’s not Ebola. It’s measles. If the plague hits, let’s force everyone to vaccinate. But measles? Measles? We need something a lot more dangerous than that if we are going to rob each and every patient of the sacred right of informed consent.
Let’s stop panicking over what measles might do and calmly examine what it is doing. It has a small and intermittent presence in our country. It makes people sick, then they get over it. It has complications, but rarely so. Vaccination is important and protective. But it cannot be forced; a parent must give consent.
If you would rather make your own medical decisions within the sacred confines of the doctor/patient relationship, then let Sacramento know now. If you would rather give politicians the power to make medical decisions for you, then give them your support. But you better hurry; the outbreak is winding down, and so is the fear. Give them the power before it’s too late. I’m sure they’ll make plenty of other wise medical decisions for you in the years to come.”
Bob Sears, M.D., FAAP, is a pediatrician based in Dana Point, California.