Maggie really wanted to see snow

At Mother Jones, a doctor writes an open letter to the parent of the unvaccinated child who exposed the doctor’s family to measles.

I assume you love your child just like I love mine. I assume that you are trying to make good choices regarding their care. Please realize that your child does not live in a bubble. When your child gets sick, other children are exposed. My children. Why would you knowingly expose anyone to your sick, unvaccinated child after recently visiting Disneyland? That was a boneheaded move.

Many anti-vaxxers think measles is no big deal – just an ordinary “childhood disease” that causes a little rash and then gets better.

My son, Eli, is 10 months old. He is too young to received the MMR vaccine and thus has no protection. Whether by refusal or because they are too young, exposed unvaccinated children have a 90 percent chance of getting measles.

Fourth, there are children like my Maggie. These are children who can’t be vaccinated. Children who have cancer. Children who are immunocompromised. Children who are truly allergic to a vaccine or part of a vaccine (i.e., anaphylaxis to egg). These children remain at risk. They cannot be protected, except by vaccinating people around them.

Maggie was diagnosed last August with ALL—acute lymphoblastic leukemia (blood cancer). She has had multiple rounds of chemotherapy, lumbar punctures, and surgery to implant her port. She has been admitted six times since diagnosis and spent over three weeks at Phoenix Children’s Hospital (including Halloween and New Years). She had been immunized fully, but we are unable to immunize her further until after treatments end.  Her treatment will prayerfully end shortly after her 5th birthday, in January 2017.

Here is how the measles outbreak has further complicated our situation.

It was a Wednesday. Maggie had just been discharged from Phoenix Children’s Hospital after finishing her latest round of chemotherapy. That afternoon she went to the PCH East Valley Specialty Clinic for a lab draw. Everything went fine, and we were feeling good…until Sunday evening when we got the call. On Wednesday afternoon, Anna, Maggie, and Eli had been exposed to measles by another patient. Our two kids lacked the immunity to defend against measles. The only protection available was multiple shots of rubeola immune globulin (measles antibodies). There were three shots for Maggie and two shots for Eli. They screamed, but they now have some temporary protection against measles. We pray it is enough.

Go to Mother Jones to see the photo of Eli getting his shots. Bring a kleenex.

Eli and Maggie were exposed to measles on January 21. Despite the treatment noted, they could start showing signs of measles any time from now through February 11 (21 days post exposure). After a new blood test, both my wife and I were found to be immune to measles, but the children will remain in isolation until February 11.

Unvaccinating parent, thanks for screwing up our three-week “vacation” from chemotherapy. Instead of a break, we get to watch for measles symptoms and pray for no fevers (or back to the hospital we go). Thanks for making us cancel our trip to the snow this year. Maggie really wanted to see snow, but we will not risk exposing anyone else. On that note, thanks for exposing 195 children to an illness considered ‘eliminated’ from the US. Your poor choices don’t just effect your child. They affect my family and many more like us.

Please forgive my sarcasm. I am upset and just a little bit scared.

Don’t be that parent.


  1. Dom says

    A few things confuse me here:

    1. The doctor’s children … Weren’t they vaccinated?
    2. If he is concerned about children coming back from Disneyland, was he also concerned about travelers coming back from Ebola-infected areas?
    3. Unvaccinated children have a 90% chance of getting measles? Seems high to me.

  2. says

    1. It says in one of the passages I quoted, his son is 10 months, too young to be vaccinated, and his daughter has cancer so she can’t get further vaccinations.

    3. No, exposed unvaccinated children have a 90% chance.

  3. Cuttlefish says

    2. Ebola is really hard to catch. You need contact with bodily fluids. Measles is very easy to catch. Someone coughs in a room before you get there… I’m kinda guessing the doctor was proportionately concerned.

  4. embraceyourinnercrone says

    Dom @1 Fun fact, Measles is one of the most contagious viruses on the planet, yes Ebola is more likely to kill you if you get it BUT, Ebola is contracted by direct contact with infected bodily fluids. Measles is airborne, if you are not vaccinated and you walk in a room within 2 hours after a person infected with measles has been there, you will very likely develop the disease.

    Measles is a miserable illness, if the person who gets it is healthy and even healthy people can die from it, it can cause damage to the hearing and vision, swelling of the brain and in some cases, several years after completely recovering, a rare but always fatal complication called subacute sclerosing panencephalitis, which may take several years to kill but includes:Prior to death, there may be:

    Behavior changes
    Stupor and coma

    I am in my fifties, I had relatives who ended up in the hospital with measles, mumps and in one case encephalitis. I remember kids a few years older in braces and special shoes because they had polio. My mother remembers kids in her school who got sick with measles, whooping cough or scarlet fever and who didn’t survive them.
    Why would anyone want those days back? Why would anyone think catching the illness was “better” for their children.

    I’m even more pissed than I would normally be about this as 2 of my nieces are pregnant right now and another is undergoing chemo and radiation.

  5. quixote says

    Dom, are you actually asking those questions in good faith? Doesn’t seem like you read the post, and I’m very dubious, but just in case you are, let me answer #2 for you.

    Ebola actually has a quite low infectivity. The reason health workers wear moon suits is because of the high fatality rate AFTER infection. But as contagious diseases go, it’s not super-infectious. Less so than a cold, for instance. And much less so than measles, which is one of the most highly contagious diseases humans get.

    As for the doctor worrying about “travelers,” no. He’s a doctor. He’ll know that Ebola patients are not contagious before symptoms appear, and only weakly contagious for a day or so afterward. A measles patient, on the other hand, is contagious for four or so days before symptoms appear.

  6. Dom says

    Yes, it was all asked in good faith. Ophelia did a good job answering me. I’d like to add:

    I thought the two passages above were from two different people, so I didn’t know it was the doctor who couldn’t vaccinate his kids. And I just slipped up badly about the 90% stuff.

  7. iknklast says

    Another thing that is problematic with some of these parents is a conviction among some of them that children should be exposed to childhood diseases; they feel it gives them a better immune system than vaccinating. So they may deliberately expose their children to diseases (and wittingly or unwittingly, other people’s children). I’ve had to deal with this issue with some of my students who have young children and believe what they read on the Internet much more than what their science professor tells them. Why? Because Internet.


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