Dr. Claire McCarthy Explains Vaccination to the Layperson

It’s my topic de jour, vaccination. I just want to write something to endorse this piece I came across which  succinctly encapsulates the current events about vaccination in America.

I found The Good Thing About The Disney Measles Outbreak on Huffington Post. It’s written by Claire McCarthy, MD. I was happy to read something in the mainstream media covering this issue responsibly and patiently so that the average person can hear and absorb these important points.

McCarthy’s piece explains the recent Disneyland measles outbreak in CA, pointing out that it is spreading to the surrounding states and parts of the USA’s American neighbor, Mexico. She gives a refresher course on this vintage disease by going over why measles is so dangerous(“If someone has it, they will infect 90 percent of the people around them who aren’t immunized. “)

The best part about McCarthy’s take on this issue is more subtle but also the most powerful pro-vaccination argument going; she points out how immunization’s effectiveness downplays the threat of endemic diseases. This is a tough concept to grasp for some people but once it sinks in it has a palpable truth to it. Most importantly, McCarthy claims the Disney outbreak and the subsequent media attention is a good thing because it puts the conversation in the forefront and demonstrates that the rise of the antivaccination movement coincides with the rise of nigh-vanquished diseases reestablishing a hold in American society.

Check it out:

Cases of measles linked to an exposure at Disneyland continue to spread, not just in California, but in several other states and in Mexico. The numbers of cases are climbing — and so are the number of exposed people who might get sick — and expose more people before they realize they are sick. Measles is extremely contagious; if someone has it, they will infect 90 percent of the people around them who aren’t immunized.

It’s scary, because measles can be dangerous. 1 in 20 people who get it will get pneumonia. 1 in 1,000 will get encephalitis, a brain inflammation that can lead to seizures and brain damage. 1 or 2 in 1,000 will die.

But as scary as this outbreak is, it may ultimately be a good thing — because it may get more parents to immunize their children.

In a way, it’s our success with vaccination that is causing us problems these days. Vaccines work. They prevent the diseases they were created to prevent. And so very few people have seen measles — or polio, or diptheria, or bacterial meningitis or even chicken pox. It’s even true of doctors; recently, some younger doctors asked me to come look at a child’s rash and see if it was chicken pox, because they’d never seen the rash themselves (it wasn’t).


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Jonathan Howard
Jonathan is a freelance writer living in Brooklyn, NY