What the Anti-Vaccine Movement Hath Wrought


Kathryn Riffenburg decided on a closed casket for her baby’s funeral.

She didn’t want her family to see what whooping cough, her son’s first illness, had done to 9-week-old Brady Alcaide. The nearly forgotten disease, which has in recent years afflicted thousands of Americans, left Brady’s tiny body swollen and unrecognizable.

So his mother dressed him in a white baptismal suit and hat and tucked him into a tiny white casket. Brady’s burial came just four weeks after his first laugh — inspired by her version of I’m a Little Teapot — and two weeks after his family learned that he had contracted a vaccine-preventable illness.

“It just seemed like it was impossible,” says Riffenburg, 31, of Chicopee, Mass. “It felt like we were dropped in The Wizard of Oz. We went from sitting in the hospital day by day, waiting for him to get better for almost two weeks, to doctors telling us we had a 50/50 chance he was going to make it.”

The mother, who was inoculated years before giving birth to Brady, later learned that she could have gotten a booster shot during her pregnancy that likely would have saved Brady’s life. Although Riffenburg didn’t know to get revaccinated, people actively choosing not to are helping diseases once largely relegated to the pages of history books — including measles — make a comeback in cities across the nation, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Unjustified fears of autism, unjustified fears of the pharmaceutical industry, know-nothing celebrities and quack scientists are killing people by arguing that vaccines are not necessary. I hope that the shameful legacy of the anti-vaccination movement follows its members and haunts them until the end of their days–and beyond. It’s the least they deserve.

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