Health and Science News for Parents
Feb
2

If you haven’t yet read Roald Dahl’s letter about measles, you should now

written by Tara Haelle

I’ve been so immersed in finishing up the book that I’ve been unable to devote much time, attention or writing to the ongoing measles outbreak that stemmed from exposures at Disneyland. BELIEVE me I have a lot to say, and my mind has been swirling, but I’ve been forcing myself to remain focused on the book. That said, one of the pieces going around that is especially poignant is something I couldn’t pass up sharing. You’ve likely already seen it, but just in case you haven’t, you need to read the letter famed children’s author Roald Dahl wrote in 1980 as children were dying from measles – a disease for which a highly vaccine had been available for decades. In fact, the vaccine became available the year after Dahl’s oldest daughter died in 1962 from a complication of this illness. Dahl is author of Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, James and the Giant Peach, and other favorites you’ve likely read.

An image of children's author Roald Dahl taken in 1982, two years after he penned this open letter to parents. photo by Jan Arkesteijn

An image of children’s author Roald Dahl taken in 1982, two years after he penned this open letter to parents. photo by Jan Arkesteijn

“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.

LET THAT SINK IN.

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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5 Responses to “If you haven’t yet read Roald Dahl’s letter about measles, you should now”

  1. […] of 2014 does not pose a risk to your healthy child,” a statement children’s author Roald Dahl certainly would have disagreed […]

  2. […] outbreak of 2014 does not pose a risk to your healthy child,” a statement children’s author Roald Dahl certainly would have disagreed […]

  3. […] outbreak of 2014 does not pose a risk to your healthy child,” a statement children’s author Roald Dahl certainly would have disagreed […]

  4. Joseph Price

    Immunization, the discussion has two basic categories. Natural immunization and Induced immunization. Each of these has two sub categories. Active immunization and Passive immunization. Each of these Four subcategories have Good points and Bad points, in that rests the problems. Some have short term effects, some have life long effects. Some can be passed to the fetus from the mother some can not.

    Although this is all well documented and well know by groups like the CDC it is NOT well know nor understood by the general population nor with our most inept media. In this lies the problem.

    There is some advantage to passing natural immunities on to the General population. After all, this ability to adapt is how we have survived and grown as a species. To what degree? Got me guessing but I’ll bet that the Governments CDC has a pretty good idea but the general population to include our inept legislators haven’t got a clue.

    It seems to me that this is the fault of the CDC. It’s their job to inform us as to the real pros and cons. Without any studies to read or voices of reason to listen to I have only an intuitive feeling that about 20% of a population using Natural immunization that can enter the population for ever is a good thing. Yes the other 80% should run to their doctor and get their shots.

    For you Star Trek TV buffs, yes that was an episode nearly 50 years ago.

    • Chris

      “There is some advantage to passing natural immunities on to the General population.”

      Other than vaccines or actually getting sick, how else does one get “natural imminity.”

      “After all, this ability to adapt is how we have survived and grown as a species.”

      In my grandmother’s day it was by having lots of children. Her mother had five children, two died before they reached the age of Olivia Dahl when she died.

      “It seems to me that this is the fault of the CDC. It’s their job to inform us as to the real pros and cons.”

      Here you go: http://www.cdc.gov/vaccines/pubs/pinkbook/index.html



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