Born before measles vaccine, how did parents cope?


As a journalist it has been strange to see how, over the years, attitudes change – and here I am really talking about the opinions of parents, good loving parents, towards vaccines and, in particular, vaccinating their children.

Now, we know that the regional, national and international health agencies are all pro-vaccines and their use in order to prevent, or at least, minimise disease transmission. Do they do that? I am not qualified to answer and, believe me, you can make any set of figures prove what you want to prove. However, the worry about illnesses and conditions, such as autism, being caused by the vaccines are real and with more than a little foundation.

Travelling back in time to my childhood brings me to the 1950s, entering this world in November 1952. Vaccines did exist. In fact, a licensed vaccine to prevent measles did not become available until 1963 and an improved one in 1968. Vaccines for mumps and rubella (German measles) became available in 1967 and 1969, respectively.

The three vaccines (for mumps, measles, and rubella) were combined in 1971 to become the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine. That was the year after I started work.

So, what did parents do before vaccines? Well, it was generally believed that once a child had had one of these childhood diseases, he or she would develop an immunity so it couldn’t be caught again. Therefore, good ole mum and dad would take their child to a ‘measles party’ to try and catch the disease and so develop immunity.

Did they work? Scientifically, I have no idea but did contract both measles and mumps, at different times, and never caught them again. So, anecdotally, yes they worked.

Years later, at high school, all pupils were going to be given BCG vaccinations, the Bacillus Calmette–Guérin vaccine, against infection with tuberculosis. The vaccine can cause side-effects and my sister, who is seven years older than me, had a bad reaction to her vaccination. It was so severe that, when my turn came, my parents not only refused their permission but stated their objections very loudly.

So, no BCG vaccine for me and now, 51 years after starting high school, I have not had TB. Never had measles or mumps again, nor rubella at all.

That is not to say I am in perfect health. I live with multiple sclerosis, epilepsy that is totally controlled, and a heart condition. In my early 20s, I also had glandular fever. To the best of my knowledge, though, vaccinations against childhood diseases or TB would not have prevented any of them.

Am I in favour of vaccination today? As stated at the beginning, I am a journalist; one of those people who watch, listen, research and ask awkward questions. As an editor, analysing stories and writing opinions has also been my role. So, bearing all that in mind, I would probably not vaccinate my child but, as I don’t have one, that has to be hypothetical.



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