An 18-month old child died of measles in Berlin, and plenty of children here have it. Many conscientious parents believe that they are saving their childrens' immune systems--or protecting them from autism--or leading a life "close to nature" that is therefore healthier--when they refuse to vaccinate. There's Nature dancing-with-the-daffodils and there's Nature-red-in-tooth-and-claw. You don't get the one without the other. I've listened to my doctor at the Traditional Chinese Medicine Center, the one whose potions and brews and acupuncture got me through menopause in a healthy way, when my gynecologist wanted to pump me full of hormones or take a knife to my uterus (yes, there are still a few doctors around here who wonder why you need that thing if you're too old to have children). I've seen the MAD MEN episode with the kid running on crutches because he came down with polio a year before the Salk vaccine was available. I've read Eula Biss: On Immunity: An Inoculation (http://www.eulabiss.net/) and please--take your kids to get their shots. After an earful from my very trusted practitioner of traditional Chinese medicine ("It's unnecessary! It's big business! Children die!") I went to the equally trusted pediatrician, who sighed, took off her glasses and shuffled thoughts in her head in that visibly thorough German way before saying with all her heart, "You know, I have seen a child die of chicken pox. And I never forgot it." My daughter got her shot that day. Yesterday I phoned the pediatrician to make sure all three kids were up to date on their immunizations.
Germany promotes, and supports, many excellent sources of alternative medicine, exactly the kinds of things that I always thought of as the lunatic fringe when I lived in New York. But when acupuncture works, it really works. When chiropractery works, it really works. When potions and herbs work, they really work. And the folks who practice these forms of medicine belong to a cult that never lets in a grain of sugar or a morsel of meat or a dab of butter or a single fiber of polyester. But they are nice people and they really do heal you. They just think their way is the only way . . . some of the time. I know practitioners of hair-raisingly non-traditional medicine who have kept wards of AIDS patients alive long after anyone thought they could, and using none of the drugs that Establishment Medicine claims are absolutely necessary. That doesn't prove that either side is right. It proves that there are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than can be dreamt of in your philosophy. And it proves that you, as a patient, have to listen to both sides, weigh the situation, and make up your own mind. But if you don't get your kids their shots, you expose both them and other, often immune-compromised children, to pain, illness, and death.
P.S. See Roald Dahl's heartbreaking account of his daughter's death from measles--and just when they thought she was recovering.