Via the Ottawa Citizen: Anti-vaccination parents are risking my toddler’s life, mother says. Excerpt:
Two-year-old Riley Olsheski has never been vaccinated — and likely never will be.
The Pembroke toddler underwent a heart transplant when he was just five months old. That has left him highly vulnerable to infectious diseases such as measles and chicken pox.
Simply receiving normal childhood vaccines would make Riley, who must take medications to suppress his immune system, very sick. Getting an illness such as the measles, which has surfaced in Ottawa and other parts of Canada in recent weeks, could kill him.
Riley is among a small percentage of children who are so medically vulnerable that they cannot be vaccinated and whose lives depend on others doing what his family cannot — having their children immunized.
In many ways, his is the face of the argument for mass vaccination. “Herd immunity” occurs when at least 95 per cent of a population is vaccinated. It means infectious diseases, which were once common, are kept at bay and healthy people do not suffer their sometimes deadly consequences. It also means that the medically vulnerable, such as Riley, benefit from the protection they can’t get directly themselves through a vaccine.
That is why Riley’s mother, Mallory Olsheski, sees red when she hears about families who choose not to vaccinate their healthy children.
“We are helpless, we are just at their mercy,” she says. “You have to get your kid vaccinated so my kid is safe. There is no way for me to protect him other than to tell people that.”
She would love to be able to have Riley vaccinated, as his three older siblings are, she says. She watches the anti-vaccine movement, supported by celebrities such as Jenny McCarthy, with frustration and anger.
“After everything he has gone through, he can be killed by something that was eradicated,” she said.
Families who choose not to vaccinate their children have been in the spotlight since two cases of measles were diagnosed in Ottawa last month. Both involved students at Stittsville’s St. Stephen Catholic school. The first child contracted the measles while on a family trip to the Philippines, where the disease is endemic. About a dozen children have been forced to stay home from the school until later this month because they were not vaccinated.
All cases of measles in Canada in recent years have been imported from other countries, but the highly infectious airborne disease has spread rapidly in some cases, especially among populations where vaccination rates are low. Ottawa’s outbreak is, so far, limited to two cases.