It’s been in the news this week that legendary children’s author Roald Dahl, lost a child to measles in 1962, and more than twenty years later, he wrote a heartbreaking letter calling for vaccination.
As the US grapples with a measles outbreak, The Charlie And The Chocolate Factory author’s letter has come to light again, as Dahl speak of his daughter Olivia, who sadly died from the disease aged seven.
Dahl recalls “One morning, when she was well on the road to recovery, I was sitting on her bed showing her how to fashion little animals out of coloured pipe-cleaners, and when it came to her turn to make one herself, I noticed that her fingers and her mind were not working together and she couldn’t do anything.
“‘Are you feeling all right?’ I asked her.
‘”I feel all sleepy,’ she said. In an hour, she was unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.”
The measles had turned into measles encephalitis, and there was simply “nothing the doctors could do to save her”.
“Even now, if a child with measles happens to develop the same deadly reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still be nothing the doctors could do to help her,” Dahl wrote.
“On the other hand, there is today something that parents can do to make sure that this sort of tragedy does not happen to a child of theirs.
“They can insist that their child is immunised against measles. I was unable to do that for Olivia in 1962 because in those days a reliable measles vaccine had not been discovered.
“Today a good and safe vaccine is available to every family and all you have to do is to ask your doctor to administer it.”
The current US outbreak has been linked to visits to Disneyland in California. Arizona health officials are monitoring 1,000 people, including 200 children thought to have been exposed to the disease.
President Barack Obama made an urgent plea to get children vaccinated in an interview before the Super Bowl on NBC.
Public Health England – The Low-Down:
Cases of measles are at their highest level for the past 18 years. The only way to prevent measles outbreaks is to make sure there is good uptake of the MMR vaccine across all ages.
Experts believe the current rise in cases of measles is due to the high proportion of 10-16year-olds who are unprotected because they missed out on vaccination in the late 1990s and early 2000s. This is because there was widespread concern at the time around a now-disproved link between autism and the MMR vaccine.
Measles is often associated with being a disease of the past and as a result people may be unaware that it is dangerous and can lead to complications and even death in severe cases.
Parents should therefore make sure their children are fully protected against measles, mumps and rubella with two doses of the MMR vaccine.
Parents of unvaccinated children, as well as older teenagers and young adults, who may have missed MMR vaccination, should be aware it is never too late to get vaccinated against measles and they should make an appointment with their GP to get vaccinated as soon as possible.
If a parent is unsure about whether they or their child has had two doses of the vaccine, they should speak to their GP who will have a record.
If parents would like further advice, please direct them to the NHS website.