John Seven: Losing sight of measles risks is costly


Imagine a disease killed every single person under the age of 18 in Berkshire County, all 24,000 of them.

More than five times that number die every year worldwide from measles. That’s 14 deaths an hour. In terms of a school, that’s about a classroom wiped out once an hour, more than any school shooter has achieved.

This is actually the good news, though. These mortality figures are down 72 percent from 2000, after which one billion children worldwide received the measles vaccine.

Before 1980, before the vaccination efforts, there were 2.6 million deaths a year from measles.

There are now 355,000 cases a year, which means 34 percent of measles cases die.

Brushing these numbers aside feels like a subtle form of racism since Africa and India account for 83 percent of measles deaths nowadays. That’s 57,000 child deaths in India, 44,000 in Africa. But you don’t see them, so they don’t count, and because you don’t see them, you don’t think there’s any reason to vaccinate your kid against measles.

The lives of many of these kids has already been devalued enough, but with that one decision, you’ve devalued their deaths as well.

You wouldn’t take it so lightly if 122,000 kids in Massachusetts died from a preventable disease.

Those who live don’t necessarily have an easy time of it. Measles is painful. The rarest complication is an infection that causes brain swelling and permanent damage. That affects 355 kids annually, the size of just about any given elementary school in the Berkshires.

This can be avoided with vaccines and the arguments against them are contrary to basic science.

Vaccines decimate a child’s immune system. Wrong. Bodies are inundated with viruses and bacteria. We inhale a few thousand a minute, requiring our immune system to adapt to them immediately. The number of allergens taken in through vaccines is about 25 or 30. That’s virtually non-existent compared to the billions we take in naturally all day.

Aluminum in vaccines is harmful. Wrong. Daily, small children take in far more aluminum from breast milk and infant formula -- none of these are near a toxic level. Aluminum in a pregnant woman’s body rises during pregnancy, and is passed onto the fetus. Aluminum is considered to be a crucial part of fetus health.

There are other arguments and tons of anecdotal evidence.

Someone recently told me, "None of my four children have been vaccinated and their health is superior." Personal experience isn’t a good replacement for empirical data. Everyone knows someone who has smoked all their life and never got lung cancer, eaten junk all of their life and never got diabetes or never exercised in their life and never become obese. This is meaningless information.

There’s also the conspiratorial anti-corporate argument. That same someone asked me, "Do you think the motives in the vaccine industry are only pure and altruistic?"

No. Nor do I think that of the food industry, the automobile industry, the insurance industry, the banking industry, the entertainment industry, the fuel industry, the fashion industry, the tech industry, the vitamin supplement industry and many others. Every day, we deal with hundreds of industries who don’t have our best interest at heart; so what? Pollution causes a number of diseases, but plenty of people still drive cars.

When it comes to anti-science, I prefer people who don’t accept evolution. They’re not quite as dangerous.

The biggest problem isn’t this first generation of unvaccinated kids. It’s the next one, and the one after. As their numbers rise, so will the visible moralities, and we won’t be able to ignore them like we do the kids in India and Africa.

John Seven, a writer, lives in North Adams. He can be reached at or at


If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.

Powered by Creative Circle Media Solutions