Melissa Carter: A little pain is worth the gain, for all of us

To prepare for my health screening, I even had to dig through my booster shot records from 1975 to show I was already protected against other childhood diseases.

But all this precaution wasn’t simply because I will be within a children’s hospital filled with sick kids. It also has to do with certain childhood diseases, like whooping cough and TB, which are on the rise due to parents’ fear of vaccinating their own children.

Within the LGBT community, we talk a lot about the search for an HIV vaccine, and many gay and transgender people in Atlanta even volunteer to join vaccine trials — though success is far from certain. With this emphasis on the positive impact of vaccines, we might forget that some parents, straight and gay, are opting out of vaccinating their children against common contagious diseases. This, in turn, impacts not only their kids, but our entire country.

Take whooping cough for example. It has been 60 years since our country has seen an epidemic of this highly contagious disease, yet communities around the U.S. are having to deal with it today. There have been nearly 500 cases so far this year, recently taking the life of a child in Dallas. Experts believe the rise in cases stem from parents’ decision to opt out of all vaccines. Because of this, both children and adults are having to get the shot, like me.

Exactly why are parents opting out? I know Jenny McCarthy’s name gets mentioned often as part of the controversy, but it began across the pond. In 1998, a paper by Dr. Andrew Wakefield presented evidence that the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella was linked to autism.

However, replications of his experiment did not support a link between the two. Ends up the source of the research’s funding caused a conflict of interest and would have prevented the paper from ever being published. Co-authors of the study retracted the findings within a decade. Mr. Wakefield can no longer practice medicine in the United Kingdom.

I think history might be the most important subject we teach, since when used properly it serves as a guidepost of how to move forward. Why repeat a mistake, when we have records of how something was handled in the past?

In the 18th century, pioneering work in the field of microbiology led to vaccinations against smallpox. Another famous breakthrough was the polio vaccine, first tested in 1952. At the time each of these vaccines came into play, the world was desperate to prevent these horrific illnesses.

Today, we don’t see the devastating effects of widespread childhood diseases, and that privilege affords us the ability to analyze these immunizations.

But privilege should not equate to selfish behavior. Not getting your children vaccinated based on an argument that has been deemed non-credible is subjecting kids and adults to diseases that in our time have only appeared in history books.

I understand parents want what is best for their kids, but we must also consider what is best for the human race as a whole. Research these diseases and see if their re-emergence is really worth the risk to us all.


Melissa Carter is also a writer for Huffington Post. She broke ground as the first out lesbian radio personality on a major station in Atlanta and was one of the few out morning show personalities in the country. Follow her on Twitter @MelissaCarter