For the week of February 24, 1999  thru March 2, 1999  

Dump the conspiracy theories, immunize the child

Commentary By PAT MURPHY

Here they go again, the conspiracy worrywarts.

Now they’re fabricating sinister consequences if legislators link Idaho to a registry in which children’s medical immunizations are permanently logged-– that ominous forces will use their children’s medial history for fearsome purposes.

This paranoia is of the same brand that brought us the wave of "black helicopter" conspiracy theories – that the United Nations is mapping the United States for a takeover by internationalists.

Remember the fear mongering that fluoridation of drinking water is also a plot-– despite years and years of indisputable proof that fluoride spares today’s children the horrors of tooth decay their grandparents endured, and in the process saves families and public health programs hundreds of millions of dollars.

Were my children still young, I’d welcome a medical registry for listing their health records as Idaho lawmakers are contemplating. In some distant year, as adults, they might well land in an emergency room, unable to recall much about their past health care.

With their medical history available from a master computer system, heaven knows the good that physicians could perform, perhaps sparing lives or avoiding inappropriate treatment.

The argument that Idaho children, and other U.S. children, would lose their privacy is silly. They should be more outraged by dinnertime phone calls from telemarketers trying to sell tickets to a charity ball.

All manner of family information involving health and finances already is shared with family physicians and health insurers, as well as Social Security, credit bureaus, motor vehicle licensing, and heaven knows what other bureaucracies.

Incredibly, there are parents who’ll allow children to die or be permanently impaired because they refused medical attention in the name of religion or hide-bound stubbornness about privacy.

Perhaps I’m more intense about this than most: I thankfully survived the terrible 1940s epidemic of infantile paralysis – a period of genuine horror in which hundreds of thousands of U.S. children died or were maimed for life by the poliomyelitis virus that struck without regard to wealth, race, geography.

Movie theaters and public swimming pools were closed, and so, too, were schools. Children virtually were quarantined in their homes to avoid exposure to the deadly, contagious and undetectable virus that spread throughout the land.

In 1952 alone, 60,000 cases were reported in the United States. In 1996, only five cases were reported – thanks to miraculous vaccines developed by Drs. Jonas Salk and Albert Sabin.

It’s a tribute to medicine and science that some parents now can be shamefully cavalier and hard-headed about their children’s health: most childhood diseases have virtually vanished because of immunizations, giving parents a sense of security, even an indifference.

But this healthfulness came at a price: the death and crippling of tens of thousands of helpless children whose illnesses helped researchers develop cures.

My guess is that most parents in those dark days wouldn’t have dwelled on rights of "privacy" had someone offered anything that might spare their children pain or death.

Murphy is the retired publisher of the Arizona Republic and a former radio commentator.


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