The 44th President implored the members of his staff that a key aspect of their collective success could be summarized by a simple notion: Don’t do stupid stuff. If only many more parents nationwide would concur — and shun the anti-scientific nonsense peddled by anti-vaxxers. As the new year advances, public health officials across the country are battling measles outbreaks, dozens of reported cases in the Pacific Northwest (Washington and Oregon) and in New York City.
The concern is rising because disease carriers are increasing in their number and mobility in areas where populations may be especially vulnerable due to low vaccination rates. Public health officials have likened the situation to “tossing a match into a can of gasoline,” or a disease spread “like a wildfire.”
As the New York Times reported of the risks this childhood infection poses: “Measles can cause permanent neurological damage, deafness and in relatively rare cases, death.”
As the Washington Post reported about measles’ resurgence as an avoidable health problem:
Measles, which remains endemic in many parts of the world, generally returns to the United States when infected travelers bring the disease back to pockets of the country where some parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children. When immunization rates fall below a certain threshold, outbreaks can occur; pregnant women, young children and people with compromised immune systems who can’t get vaccinated are especially at risk. Last year, 349 cases were confirmed across 26 states and the District of Columbia, the second highest total since the disease was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The current outbreaks — on which authorities are spending hundreds of thousands of dollars to track, treat, and contain — result from counter-factual beliefs, myths, fables, exaggerations, and emotions, not respect for the facts of modern science or medicine.
Again, as the Washington Post says:
Federal guidelines typically recommend that children get the first vaccine dose at 12 to 15 months of age and the second when they are 4 to 6 years old. (Babies may be vaccinated at age 6 months or older if they are at risk of exposure, for instance if they are traveling to an area with an outbreak.) The combination is 97-99 percent effective in preventing the viral disease.
Alas, anti-vaxxing or “hesitancy” about inoculations has become a harm infecting for too many adult minds, with raucous resistance to protecting not only one’s own but others’ children becomes a casualty of unfounded fear or wrongheadedness.
In California, lawmakers decided the Golden State had had enough in 2015, especially after a wave of negative publicity tied to a Disneyland measles outbreak. The state cracked down, as the Los Angeles Times reported, requiring “every child taught in school classrooms or enrolled in a child care facility to be fully immunized against 10 diseases: diphtheria, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae Type B, measles, mumps, pertussis (a.k.a. whooping cough), poliomyelitis, rubella, tetanus and varicella (a.k.a. chickenpox) — unless a doctor provides a medical reason for why it would be unsafe to do so.”
Lawmakers also eliminated “personal belief exemptions,” then saw vaccination rates among kindergartners rise from 90.4 percent in 2014 to 95.1 percent in 2017 — meaning youngsters also would get the broader “herd protection” achieved at 94 percent, when enough members of a community are immunized, so as to reduce infections’ risks.
But virulent opposition to inoculations persists, and doctors and public health officials are raising alarms about rising rates of kids skipping out of vaccinations by presenting medical exemptions, which critics say may be spurious — basically bought or provided by lax doctors too ready to appease parents.
An effort in Oregon to copy California’s stricter vaccination requirements failed, by the way. And national news reports have focused on the anti-vax fervor in the Pacific Northwest, where Libertarian politics and easy-going lifestyles have created a ripe atmosphere for ignoring medical science, especially since the reality seems far away and long ago of infectious diseases that once hospitalized thousands, left many youngsters with disfigurement or lifelong injury, and even caused deaths.
In my practice, I not only see the harms that patients suffer while seeking medical services, but also the calamities that can be inflicted on families due to injuries to babies and children, including by diseases and bad or negligent care given for them. It’s unacceptable that parents put their youngsters at risk by foregoing vaccinations. Like any medical treatment, inoculations carry risks. They are far less than hysterical critics claim, and they are far outweighed by the benefits that individuals and reap from vaccines’ protections against savage effects of so many “common” childhood infections.
The noisy opposition to medical prophylaxis also falls to silence, when grownups must cope with children’s deaths due to infections. As the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported of last year’s influenza season:
As of Oct. 27, 2018, a total of 185 pediatric deaths had been reported to CDC during the 2017-2018 season. This number exceeds the previously highest number of flu-associated deaths in children reported during a regular flu season (171 during the 2012-2013 season). Approximately 80 percent of these deaths occurred in children who had not received a flu vaccination this season.
Vaccines protect against a spectrum of infectious illness, and, as circumstances shift, we all can benefit from different inoculations at different ages and across the calendar. Don’t leave your youngsters, yourself, your partner, loved ones, or friends vulnerable. Talk to you doctor. Get those shots.