Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Measles - scourge of the privileged?

There's an outbreak of measles in my region.  And apparently, it's on the worrying rise on the continent.

Measles is a dangerous disease.  It can cause inflammation of the brain, resulting in the death of your child.  It's easily preventable with a jab, yet there remains resistance amongst certain communities, the argument being that vaccinations are a bad thing, that instead of bolstering the immune system, they compromise it.

This is my child with chicken pox.  It doesn't take a huge leap of the imagination to consider these pox to be small rather than chicken, they look the same to a layperson.  But of course they're not small, because small pox has been eradicated.  Thanks to a worldwide programme of vaccination this deadly disease no longer exists.  Thank God - she'd be dead.  As would her sister.

Their contracting chicken pox reminded me quite how hideously pervasive and speedy disease can be.  Within 24 hours she was covered in pustular blisters, her skin hot with fever, her discomfort extreme.  The itchy phase was worse even than the ill, feverish stage, lasting days and driving her to howling distraction.  Needless to say she now has the scars to show for it.

The risk of complication with chicken pox is thankfully rare.  With measles it's not.  Associated complications can range from diarrhoea, pneumonia, otitis media, to encephalitis and corneal ulceration (albeit rarer).   That is not something I would risk of my children.  Nor would I be comfortable having them infect others.

Those mothers who opt not to vaccinate are fortunate in that statistically in this country, immunised children predominate so reducing the risk of contagion, but what if the balance tips?  In some communities down here in the South West there are an awful lot of mothers who are anti-vaccination.  Take up of MMR where I live is just 50%...  These mums tend to stick together in that they share the same principles, send their kids to the same schools etc and when there's an outbreak it spreads.  Assuming their children don't get it, they'll grow up unprotected and if girls, presumably go on to get pregnant.  Should they contract measles then, it's a double whammy - measles is more serious in adults and particularly dangerous to the unborn child.

Our bodies will fight off and become immune to bugs they've been exposed to in tiny controlled doses.  I'd love to live in a world where we could count on our natural immunity to fight off epidemics of, for example, measles and polio, but we don't.

What's ironic is that a couple of months ago the government pledged over £800 million to fund vaccination programmes in the developing world, yet here in the healthy, wealthy, privileged UK, there are still affluent 'well-informed' mothers who'd rather turn it down.

Boris Johnson - Don't underestimate the power of funny

Boris has been popping up a lot in the news lately with all the excitement mounting around the Olympics.

It's all looking good, spectacular, in fact.  Building of the 2012 stadium is on time, within budget, and eye-poppingly impressive.  And we thought we were hopeless at this kind of thing.  Remember the Millennium disaster?

But I digress, it's Boris who's the issue.  He who has been prominent in the Olympic countdown; he, who has been madly pedalling about the city promoting those Paris-inspired dangerous-looking rent-a-bikes; he of the impossibly thick blond thatch that requires constant ruffling to stay out of his eyes; he of the strange dictum, hilarious facial expressions and comic, well just comic being...  He merely has take to the lectern and you're stifling a laugh.  There's something of the Eric Morecambe about him.  And, whatever you think of his politics, frankly, it's refreshing.

The UK political scene has been so lacking in humour of late, so devoid of personality.  Where the Labour party was funny it was contrived, spun, over-controlled and try too hard.   Cameron is of a similarly over cautious and bland approach (occasionally in PM QT resorting to sarcasm and childish 'Calm down dear' mimicry to get a laugh). Although you knew Blair clearly had it in him his sense of humour outings were carefully managed .... the most memorable being the 'You fink I'm bovvered?' Comic Relief sketch, amusing in the extreme, but doubtless monitored closely by TB's PR.  The sad truth is he was altogether just too earnest to be funny.

There's no scripting Boris though, oh no.  He's nothing if not spontaneous, which of course leads to the odd reckless, heinously inappropriate gaffe, the stumbling, the veering off message etc, but it's his unpredictability, his pompous vernacular, his shambolic bluster that makes him funny.   Like it or lump it, it's in his veins, and conveys a certain honesty.  Plus, of course, we're told by those who know him that the comic front belies a raging intelligence, vaulting ambition and profound seriousness underneath.   I met his mother once, the artist Charlotte Johnson Wahl, who was at pains to point out that her eldest is 'very serious you know, despite what people might think'.  Maybe it's all a ruse?

But, that aside, the truth of the matter is this.  The Mayoralty is up for re-election next year and there's a chance that Boris may not get to open his beloved Olympics, instead forced to hand ye flamin' torch over to arch rival Ken.  I have a feeling it won't happen, that he'll stay in.  Because there's a little bit about his comedy that infects, and that's what people want more of right now, amidst all the gloom.

It's a shame for Ken, because we're all well aware what a phenomenal job he did as predecessor in terms of making things happen.  But don't underestimate the power of funny alongside a smattering of competence (2012).  After all, Boris having been handed the baton, is yet to break anything.  Plus, it seems he's careful (even long-term strategic..?) to set himself apart from Cameron (citing the hacking saga) and in doing so, end up less tarred with the same brush that daubs the failings of central government.

It was summed up for me in a newspaper the other day which observed how, on one of his many promotional outings, about which I can't remember, a group of teenage boys gathered around The Blond to have their photo taken.  It seemed wholly unlikely that an anarchic group of kids would consent, never mind volunteer, to having their photograph taken alongside Britain's most bumbling toff. When asked why they did, they replied with a shrug, 'Cos he's funny, isn't he?'

Come 3 May 2012, I suspect they'll be an awful lot of Londoners thinking the same.