Other View: Vaccine hesitancy proving potentially disastrous
From the editorial: "Why would parents not take advantage of readily available vaccines to protect their children?"
One of the lingering — and potentially disastrous — effects of the COVID-19 pandemic is that more parents are reluctant to have their children vaccinated against what used to be common childhood diseases, as well as against flu and the mutating coronavirus strains.
These diseases are nothing to play around with, especially when it comes to young children. Government and public health officials should make it a priority to spread the word that vaccines save lives. Failing to have children vaccinated can have serious consequences for those children and for others around them.
Already, some states have serious outbreaks of measles and chickenpox among children. Thanks to the development and widespread use of vaccines, today’s parents may have had little experience with these diseases.
Before the vaccine was introduced in 1963, measles killed about 500 Americans each year, mostly children. Many others were left with lasting problems, including blindness and neurological damage. Before the vaccine became available in 1995, chickenpox led to amputations and to the deaths of infants, pregnant women, and people with weakened immune systems. Many older adults now are plagued with recurring bouts of painful shingles, a result of having chickenpox as a child.
Nor are these diseases totally eradicated. All it takes is a few unvaccinated people who interact closely, and these lurking pathogens can start to spread. Ninety percent of people who come into contact with someone who has measles will fall ill — if those people don’t have the immunity two doses of the MMR vaccine provide.
Why would parents not take advantage of readily available vaccines to protect their children?
The pandemic’s disruption of our lives may be partly to blame. During the worst of the pandemic, many parents were unable to take their children to a doctor’s office. An increase in at-home schooling meant fewer families needed to show proof of vaccination or seek an exemption to school vaccination requirements. Those parents who fell behind on vaccinations should be encouraged to make up for lost time.
More troubling is what appears to be a growing resistance to vaccines. There’s been an anti-vaccine movement for years, fueled in part by misinformation from a false “study” claiming to have found a link between the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) and autism. The study was thoroughly discredited and the author disqualified as a physician, but the false information lingers.
Unfortunately, the toxic political atmosphere in the United States during the pandemic fueled the anti-vaccine movement. Protecting public health, especially that of children, should be a cause all Americans support, but many people felt that whether a person wore a mask or got a shot was a political statement.
Public school mandates requiring vaccinations against such diseases as measles, chicken pox and polio have been one of the most effective weapons against these diseases. Unfortunately, the recent political battles and misleading rhetoric over COVID-19 have fueled mistrust of other vaccines. Polls show that although they are still a minority, increasing numbers of parents believe that they alone should decide whether their children get vaccinated. All states have exemptions to vaccination mandates for medical reasons, and most states grant exemptions for religious reasons.
A few states allow exemptions for “philosophical” reasons, too. Making it too easy for parents to opt out of vaccines for their children is dangerous — for their children and for those who aren’t vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons.
We need a robust campaign to help parents understand the importance of getting their children vaccinated against childhood diseases, and we need to get the word out that vaccines are safe. Vaccines need to be promoted as a way to protect children’s health, a goal everyone should support. Leaders should work with state and local public health officials to spread the word that vaccines work.
How tragic for a child to die or be permanently damaged by a disease that could so easily have been prevented.
— The Virginian-Pilot & Daily Press Editorial Board (pilotonline.com)