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Measles, cell towers & fearmongering in pursuit of informing the public

Sometimes you just can’t win. 

After my column last week, which took a closer look at the cell tower debate in Ripon, I fully expected to receive a flood of emails telling me exactly how terrible people thought that I was. 

And, I was not disappointed with the response. 

There were a few supporting notes in there – to the tune of “thanks for taking a balanced approach on a sensitive topic” – but by and large I am persona non grata to a large portion of The Almond Capital of the World for the time being, and that was to be expected. 

But this past week when I penned a news story about there being a potential case of measles at Kaiser Permanente’s Manteca Medical Center, I had absolutely no idea that I was about to unleash a torrent unlike anything I had ever seen. 

I should have known. 

When broaching any subject that can somehow be linked back to vaccinations in the past – like how San Joaquin County Public Health Services thinks it’s a good idea to get a flu shot so that you don’t die – I’ve managed to get the entire anti-vaccine faction bombarding me with hate mail. Apparently, somebody shares these stories on Facebook groups or internet forums (thanks for reading!) and the enraged unite in their favorite pastime of spamming innocent scribes with either colorful language, or a plethora of links proving that said scribe doesn’t know what they’re talking about. 

While there was in fact a measles scare at the Manteca hospital – where some parents were told, according to them, that they couldn’t leave, and other patients that called in were told in a roundabout way that they could not come in – and that suspicious case was reported to public health the way that it should have been, people apparently didn’t think that was information that the public should know about. 

According to those that reached out, there was “no point” in sharing anything about a “possible” case until it has been confirmed, and that writing anything until it was confirmed was “fear mongering” intended to “scare” people into vaccinating their children. 

Respectfully, no. 

According to the World Health Organization, in 1980 there were roughly 2.6 million people that died every year due to the measles. Because of vaccinations, less than 40 years later, that number has dropped to about 75,000 worldwide, and because of “herd immunity” – where large populations are immunized against the virus – those that can’t receive the potentially life-saving shots because of an allergy, or a compromised immune system still have a line of defense. 

Just looking at those numbers alone it’s easy to see why vaccines are something that should be advocated for – a lot less people die as a result of them, and that simply cannot be argued. 

But even though the success of vaccines is beyond logical dispute, this wasn’t an issue about vaccination. Because of patient privacy laws, we don’t know anything about the person who was believed to have had the virus in question – we can presume that it was a child, since the incident took place in a pediatric clinic, but not even that is known at this point. We don’t where the person was immunized or not, or what the actual diagnosis was if it wasn’t measles. What we do know is that a medical facility contacted a public health agency and said that they believe they had a case of the measles, and that patients and staff may have come into contact with that person – and others may have prior to the incident at the clinic as well. 

How is that not something that people should be informed about? 

I know from my own experience that the period of time before my son had his vaccinations was one of the scariest times in my life. Knowing that there are people that actively work to prevent them from being administered means that there are people out there that are susceptible to a whole host of illnesses that could kill him. Part of me worried every single time that we left the house with him that he would come into contact with something that his young immune system wouldn’t be able to fight off. Perhaps that is irrational but seeing how people lashed out and made a very legitimate public health scare that residents deserved to know about a lightning rod in a polarizing issue that is not backed by science, I think I had a reason to be concerned. 

Everybody should be able to make their own informed choices about their health and the health of their children, but the key marker there is informed – and the best way to be informed is to have all of the information available when making that decision. Had we waited a day for the tests to come back, and the test was positive, and it was learned that we knew about the scare and simply didn’t relay the information, we would have been accused of covering for the hospital and trying to silence what is a legitimate news story. 

See how things like this have become a lose-lose situation?

Personally, it bothers me that a large motivating factor in the movement to keep children unvaccinated is an unfounded fear that vaccines cause autism. That alone means that parents are more worried about the chance that their child be different, than be afflicted with something that very likely will kill them, and with a loved one in my family that has autism, this argument offends me to my core. There are any one of a number of reasons that the amount of autism diagnoses has increased in the last 20 years, not the least of which is doctors and scientists understand much more about it and cases that were incorrectly diagnosed in the past are now being classified appropriately. The one thing that every credible scientific study has proven is that there is no link between vaccines and autism, but yet that myth continues to be perpetuated again and again no matter the harm that it causes both directly and indirectly. 

But, that’s probably another argument for another day. 

At the very basic level, this was simply a case of letting people know that there was a real chance that a deadly virus had cropped up in town, and that people should be prepared for what may come next. 

Anybody reading anything more into that did a poor of job of hiding their agenda.


To contact reporter Jason Campbell email or call 209.249.3544.