Editor’s note: This post is not intended as medical advice. Always consult a medical professional or physician before treatment of any kind.
My 6-year-old daughter could win an Olympic medal in being picky. She has been in elementary school for two years and has barely ever eaten lunch. Her school is nut-free, which means she can’t eat her dietary staple of peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. So we send her with a thermos of warm pasta and red sauce, although she hardly ever eats it. We beg her to try turkey or cheese or any variety of other foods to no avail, as she maybe takes just a bite or two of pasta, eats her fruit and Goldfish crackers and leaves it at that.
To her credit, she doesn’t complain. Neither do I. I have a tree nut allergy and have been in full-on anaphylaxis, so I know first-hand how frightening it can be to gasp for air as your tongue swells and throat closes rapidly before the EpiPen takes effect. I am grateful that the allergy is mine, not my daughter’s, because I would be terrified letting her leave the house every day knowing how easily she could be contaminated by something with such an easy potential to kill her. While I’d like her to eat a better lunch, her first-world menu preferences should not come at the detriment of others.
Imagine, though, that what can kill your kid is another kid, not just what’s packed in their lunchbox. Carl Krawitt is petrified that his son, Rhett, will be at risk because he goes to a school with the “highest rate of ‘personal belief exemptions'” in California’s Bay Area, with 7 percent of the kids exempt from vaccinations there, compared to the state average of 2.5 percent, according to NPR. That means children not vaccinated against communicable diseases such as measles, polio, and whooping cough for religious, personal, or health reasons may still attend school lawfully. And of course, measles are making a comeback.
Rhett has been fighting leukemia since he was just 18 months old, and while he’s now in remission, his immune system is still delicate as it rebuilds from his last round of chemotherapy. That makes him highly susceptible to the measles.
Carl says he depends on herd immunity to protect Rhett, but that only works if everyone vaccinates.
“It’s very emotional for me,” he said to NPR. “If you choose not to immunize your own child and your own child dies because they get measles, OK, that’s your responsibility, that’s your choice. But if your child gets sick and gets my child sick and my child dies, then … your action has harmed my child.”
He and his wife are appealing to the school district to make vaccinations a requirement unless specific health issues mandate a child cannot be safely immunized. While some schools require kids without vaccinations to stay home in the event of an outbreak, preventing one can be equally important as reacting to one.
It’s not just immunocompromised children at risk of contracting the measles, either, but pregnant women, the very young, and the elderly. And schools aren’t the only place where the measles can be spread (hello, Disneyland). But the World Health Organization says it is children who are most at risk when it comes to the measles, and since children are concentrated in classrooms, the health of schools is an area of focus and great concern for families like the Krawitts.
Surely those against vaccinations will point to articles (almost exclusively in obscure news publications or undistinguished medical journals written by a single doctor quoting a murky study) that show vaccinations are harmful and that measles are rarely deadly. And surely for some people, vaccinations cause problems and measles don’t kill. Besides, even those who get vaccinated aren’t always immune, as this flu season has shown.
Then again, not everyone who eats antioxidant-rich foods stays cancer-free. Some people even die from drinking too much water. Not everything works. And yet it is an indisputable, black-and-white fact that the vast majority of those immunized against communicable diseases such as measles don’t get it, while an infinitesimal number of people who get vaccinated from it are harmed by the shot itself.
Rhett’s school is peanut-free, and Carl said parents were reminded at the beginning of the year not to send any peanut products.
“It’s really important your kids don’t bring peanuts, because kids can die,” he recalled being told by a teacher.
His response was immediate: “In the interest of the health and safety of our children, can we [also] have the assurance that all the kids at our school are immunized?”
In 2014 there was talking of closing the U.S. borders to those from countries where Ebola was widespread, despite less than a handful of people in our country who had actually contracted it. Why the discrimination against those with compromised immune systems in our schools — especially since they number in the hundreds and thousands, not the single digits?
A peanut butter sandwich can kill. So can a child without vaccinations. You won’t send one to school, but you will the other? It takes a village — and that village must be vaccinated.