A welcome step on vaccinations
Observer-Reporter - 4/30/2017
The deployment of "alternative facts" is, alas, not entirely isolated to certain precincts of Washington, D.C.
For the last several years, a dedicated horde of zealots has clung to the notion that childhood vaccines that have been routinely administered for decades can cause autism and other disorders. Despite strenuous pushback from experts, who have emphasized the safety and reliability of vaccines, these "anti-vaxxers" doggedly insist that vaccines can be harmful and have opted not to have their children immunized.Rather than helping their offspring, they are hurting them, leaving them vulnerable to infectious diseases like whooping cough or measles that have largely been tamed as a result of the vaccines they abhor. By taking this step, they help lower the "herd immunity" of their communities and increase the likelihood that children who cannot be vaccinated because of legitimate medical reasons will end up contracting a disease that could put them in serious peril.Think of it this way: An infant too young to be immunized could end up gravely ill because someone heeded the advice of a C-list celebrity, an elderly movie star, the misguided scion of a political dynasty or a site on the internet overflowing with hysteria and misinformation.Pennsylvania is taking a welcome step toward making sure more children are immunized and holding parents responsible if they are not. The Tribune-Review reported last week new school vaccination rules that will take effect at the start of the 2017-18 academic year will require that children be fully vaccinated within five days of the start of school.The Pennsylvania Department of Health previously allowed parents up to eight months to get their charges vaccinated. If they do not get their child immunized within five days, they will have to provide a plan from the child's pediatrician summarizing when the vaccines will be administered. If no plan is forthcoming, then the child could be prohibited from attending classes.Pennsylvania is not going as far as West Virginia, Mississippi or California, which do not allow parents to cite religious or philosophical reasons for not having their children immunized. Those exceptions are still in place in the commonwealth. However, allowing parents only five days to get their children vaccinated rather than a too-generous eight months will reduce the number of possible disease outbreaks and allow the state to provide more accurate reporting to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, a health department official told the Tribune-Review.We can only hope this sensible move helps prevent more cases of measles or whooping cough, both of which have been on the rise in the United States over the last couple of years as a result of the anti-vaccination crowd. In fact, Peter J. Hotez, a pediatrician with the Baylor College of Medicine in Texas, is concerned anti-vaxxers have gained too much ground. He wrote in The New York Times in February we could be on the cusp of serious measles outbreaks."As a scientist leading global efforts to develop vaccines for neglected poverty-related diseases like schistosomiasis and Chagas' disease, and the dad of an adult daughter with autism and other disabilities, I'm worried that our nation's health will soon be threatened because we have not stood up to the pseudoscience and fake conspiracy claims of this movement."Indeed, consider the progress we have made in public health over the last century as a result of vaccination. In 1920, more than 7,000 Americans died of measles. The same year, 13,000 Americans died of diptheria. Two years later, about 5,000 Americans perished as a result of whooping cough.Wouldn't it be a shame if ignorance and gullibility eroded these gains?
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