My eldest daughter caught measles when she was seven
years old. As the illness took its usual course I can
remember reading to her often in bed and not feeling
particularly alarmed about it. Then 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
feeling all right?" I asked her. "I feel all sleepy,"
In an hour, she was
unconscious. In twelve hours she was dead.
The measles had turned
into a terrible thing called measles encephalitis and
there was nothing the doctors could do to save her. That
was twenty-four years ago in 1962, but even now, if a
child withmeasles happens to develop the same deadly
reaction from measles as Olivia did, there would still
be nothing the doctors could do to help her.
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.
It is not yet generally
accepted that measles can be a dangerous illness.
Believe me, it is. In my
opinion parents who now refuse to have their children
immunised are putting the lives of those children at
In America, where measles
immunisation is compulsory, measles, like smallpox, has
been virtually wiped out.
Here in Britain, because
so many parents refuse, either out of obstinacy or
ignorance or fear, to allow their children to be
immunised, we still have a hundred thousand cases of
measles every year.
Out of those, more than
10,000 will suffer side effects of one kind or another.
At least 10,000 will
develop ear or chest infections. About 20 will die.
LET THAT SINK IN.
Every year around 20
children will die in Britain from measles.
So what about the risks
that your children will run from being immunised?
They are almost
non-existent. Listen to this. In a district of around
300,000 people, there will be only one child every 250
years who will develop serious side effects from measles
immunisation! That is about a million to one chance. I
should think there would be more chance of your child
choking to death on a chocolate bar than of becoming
seriously ill from a measles immunisation.
So what on earth are you
It really is almost a
crime to allow your child to go unimmunised.
The ideal time to have it
done is at 13 months, but it is never too late. All
school-children who have not yet had a measles
immunisation should beg their parents to arrange for
them to have one as soon as possible.
Incidentally, I dedicated
two of my books to Olivia, the first was "James and the
Giant Peach." That was when she was still alive. The
second was "The BFG," dedicated to her memory after she
had died from measles. You will see her name at the
beginning of each of these books. And I know how happy
she would be if only she could know that her death had
helped to save a good deal of illness and death among