In what some might consider an odd approach to parenting, whenever a friend of mine came down with the mumps, my mother took me over and plopped me on his bed. I never got mumps, although I got all the others – measles, German measles, chicken pox, rheumatic fever (which almost finished me). But mumps was special because if you got it as an adult, you could go sterile. So, before the arrival of the MMR vaccine (1971), my parents engaged in a kind of homeopathy, believing that once I’d had these diseases (except rubella), I would be immune. Precisely the theory behind vaccinations. In early 1950s America, many common childhood diseases were no longer the killers they had once been (with the lethal exception of polio), and many parents thought it better to get over them while young than worry about them later.
In the current measles outbreak, parents give all kinds of reasons – from religious beliefs to irrational fears – for not vaccinating their children. Those that jump out for me are the “largely wealthy and well-educated families” who, The New York Times reported, "are trying to carve out ‘all-natural’ lives for their children.” The descendants of the 1960s back-to-the-land movement, they try to immunize their children against the “toxic” products of pharmaceutical companies and corporate agriculture – of modern life.
They're easy to ridicule – certainly my first reaction – until I remember our own anguished dilemmas about how best to keep our children healthy and safe.