Of all the tales Nova Scotia’s eminent writer Thomas Raddall penned, The Siege, set in Liverpool in 1801, gives us a devastatingly true look at our pioneering past. The Siege depicts pest houses, white flags outside infected homes and early inoculations that fought off small pox.
The evidence is in every graveyard. Tiny stones representing lives cut short by plagues that were largely untreatable before vaccines became common.
Before Canada was a country, Dartmouth Judge Alexander James and his wife, Harriet, lost eight of their 11 children to communicable diseases.
Kingsport shipbuilder Rufus Burgess and his wife, Georgina, were affluent enough to build what we now call the Blomidon Inn in Wolfville, but in 1877 they lost four children in 17 days to diphtheria. That disease hardly respected the rich or prominent.
It was in the early 1800s that widespread vaccination began in England. There were always unbelievers, but the Vaccination Act of 1853 ordered mandatory vaccination for infants, which was later extended to children up to 14 years.
As a kid I had measles, mumps and chicken pox. I remember learning to love books because most of those childhood diseases lined up in one calendar year, so I had lots of time to read. But I cannot understand parents who choose not to vaccinate their kids when preventative measures exist that were not available in 1960.
What kind of parents are these celebrity actors who don’t believe in vaccination? On the other hand, actress and humanitarian Salma Hayek has proclaimed, "If you knew how to help save a child's life, what could stop you?"
Medical experts report that measles is on the rise after an almost 20-year absence. Last week CNN was reporting a number of outbreaks. In Europe, alone, 72 people died of measles in 2018.
There was an outbreak at Disneyland in California in December. California is one of 20 U.S. states that currently allow parents to skip vaccination based on their personal, philosophical beliefs.
Some school districts there have opt out rates higher than 10 per cent. Fortunately, a bill to ban exemptions is being introduced because – duh – it’s not fair to put other people’s children at risk.
In Ontario, a plane landing on Jan. 27 at Toronto’s Pearson International Airport likely brought the measles infection that resulted in ‘a lab-confirmed case’ of measles in Mississauga. Measles is, after all, a highly contagious disease.
The small island nation of Madagascar has been particularly hit by its worst measles outbreak in decades. The ministry of health told CNN that more than 50,000 people have caught the disease since last October and there have been more than 300 deaths – mostly kids.
Gail McGovern of the American Red Cross has said, “it's imperative that we all come together to stop the world from backsliding any further - and that means ensuring everyone gets vaccinated. Unless we act – and fast – more people will get the virus and die. And many of the victims will be children.”
According to McGovern, at least 95 per cent of a population must receive two doses of the measles-containing vaccine to stop the virus from spreading. Even though prevention is possible, vaccine rates are dropping. Yet the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics actually recommend that healthy children should be vaccinated against 14 diseases by the age of two.
Opting out of vaccination for kids is tantamount to believing the earth is flat and, apparently, that worldview is enjoying a big resurgence of late. Go figure…
Former Advertiser and Register reporter Wendy Elliott is a freelance journalist living in Wolfville.