Bill Fletcher Jr.ColumnistsOp-EdOpinion

Questions About the Measles Controversy

Bill Fletcher
By Bill Fletcher, Jr.
NNPA Columnist

I have to confess that I really cannot believe the measles controversy. The issue of vaccinations had been settled, at least so I thought, until I realized that instead of science, there is an increased reliance on, forgive me for this expression, “urban myths.”

I remember first encountering a major urban myth in connection with the suggestion that there were/are alligators in the New York City sewer system. Proponents of this myth were always so certain and so definitive that it seemed that there was little question as to the validity of the story, i.e., that baby alligators had been flushed down toilers and now haunted the sewer system. There was only one problem: it was not true.

What I learned from this is that many people can and will adopt a certain viewpoint irrespective of the facts if it substantiates an opinion or fear that they have. This seems to have become the case in the matter of measles. The suggestion that the measles vaccination will result in autism has been repeated time and again. Is it possible that there will be side effects with the vaccination? There are possible side effects with any vaccination, but the percentages are so infinitesimally small. Yet, if one wants to, one can worry about this endlessly.

Yet, I will suggest something that is actually worth worrying about and, yes, it is in connection with measles and, no, it has nothing to do with a side-effect of the vaccination: birth defects. People infected and contagious with measles represent an immense danger to pregnant women. This is a fact and it has been demonstrated. Women who contract the measles during pregnancy face the very real risk of their baby having birth defects.

It is for this reason that the current debate about the measles vaccination is so myopic and wrong-headed. We should be more concerned about what happens when an illness that is preventable is let loose and its impact on vulnerable populations. This is not mainly an issue of children catching the measles from others, but rather its impact on others.

Let me tell you a story. At the age of 39, I contracted chicken pox. I had thought that I had had it as a child. I may have had contact with it but I never had a full blown case. When I got it, two weeks after my then 4-year-old contracted it, I thought that I was going to die. The level of pain, misery and weakness helped me to truly understand why it can be fatal for adults to contract “childhood illnesses.”

When you are thinking about the measles vaccination issue consider this carefully. Think about the vulnerable populations. This is really not a personal decision, to be honest. This is a social decision, that is, the decision of the individual potentially has a far broader impact than on one child or even one family.

An embrace of myths about the measles vaccination is really about throwing the dice, with the well-being of others at issue.

Bill Fletcher, Jr. is the host of The Global African on Telesur-English. He is a racial justice, labor and global justice writer and activist. Follow him on Twitter, Facebook and at


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Bill Fletcher Jr.

Bill Fletcher Jr has been an activist since his teen years. Upon graduating from college he went to work as a welder in a shipyard, thereby entering the labor movement. Over the years he has been active in workplace and community struggles as well as electoral campaigns. He has worked for several labor unions in addition to serving as a senior staffperson in the national AFL-CIO. Fletcher is the former president of TransAfrica Forum; a Senior Scholar with the Institute for Policy Studies; an editorial board member of; and in the leadership of several other projects. Fletcher is the co-author (with Peter Agard) of “The Indispensable Ally: Black Workers and the Formation of the Congress of Industrial Organizations, 1934-1941”; the co-author (with Dr. Fernando Gapasin) of “Solidarity Divided: The crisis in organized labor and a new path toward social justice“; and the author of “‘They’re Bankrupting Us’ – And Twenty other myths about unions.” Fletcher is a syndicated columnist and a regular media commentator on television, radio and the Web.

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