Nearly 30-year-old letter from author Roald Dahl urging measles vaccinations spreads across the internet

Posted at 3:07 PM, Feb 02, 2015
and last updated 2015-02-02 15:17:21-05
Roald Dahl

Roald Dahl

The late author Roald Dahl is best known for his children’s books, including Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and James and the Giant Peach.

However a letter he wrote in 1988 about the death of his daughter Olivia from measles in 1962 is suddenly popular as the disease continues to spread.

Olivia died before a vaccine for the disease was available. Dahl dedicated James and the Giant Peach to her when she was alive, and The BFG in her memory after her death.

Dahl wrote the letter to urge parents to have their children vaccinated to avoid the terrible disease:

 Olivia, 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 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 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 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.