If you went to the 1900s and informed people that there was medical technology all-but-guaranteed to stop the spread of preventable diseases — but that there was a movement afoot against it — you would have been laughed out of town.
And that probably would have been good: Our immune systems would not have been able to handle the widespread diseases since eradicated by vaccines – e.g., smallpox. Diseases like hepatitis, diphtheria, polio, measles, mumps and rubella are now so rare that we have the perverse luxury of having debates on the value of modern medicine — modern medicine, which it should be noted, has recently developed vaccines against the most dangerous forms of meningitis.
Like the science behind climate change, the efficacy and safety of vaccines is so well-documented that it requires a willful suspension of disbelief to deny the reality: Vaccines save lives. Yet somehow, according to a Pew Research Poll done earlier this year, 30 percent of U.S. adults think that vaccines should not be required.
It’s worth noting that the older you are, the more likely you are to be in favor of mandatory vaccines. The elderly remember the scourge of preventable diseases of yesteryear, supporting mandatory vaccines by a margin of 79 to 20 percent. On the other hand, Millennials are free to pontificate on whether or not we should become immune to horrific disease, only supporting mandatory vaccinations by a margin of 59 to 41 percent.
This is absurd — and dangerous. For those who are unable to receive vaccinations for whatever reason (e.g., newborn babies), it is key that the immunity of the public be maintained so that diseases cannot find a foothold anywhere. By refusing to vaccinate, some irresponsible parents are deliberately harming this “herd immunity.”
The major drive behind the anti-vaccine campaign comes from a rumor propagated in the 1990s that vaccines cause autism. But there is literally no evidence to support this claim. On the contrary, it is an established fact that the conjurer of this preposterous link falsified his data in an effort to increase the value of his own patents.
There is a mass movement of fraud and ignorance, and it’s the movement behind the effort to put our kids at risk. Normally, vigorous debate on public issues should be encouraged. But there is no debate here. Literally every medical board in existence and every scientific study recommends vaccines. If the science was not established, then sure, let’s have a debate about it.
But if you’re going to advocate against vaccines, you have to explain why you are willing to put your child (and other children) at needless risk of death from diseases we conquered decades ago.
Some may argue it should be the parent’s right to decide. That argument may work when you’re deciding which school little Timmy should go to, or how many cookies Susie gets after dinner. But refusing to vaccinate your kids is a little bit different. Even people who normally disagree on the appropriate role of government should at least be able to agree that there should be a public mandate to ensure that all children are protected against easily preventable diseases.
The bottom line: Refusing to vaccinate your kid does not border on child abuse; it is child abuse.
While anti-vaxxers are attempting to take us back to the Middle Ages, science has been working hard to prevent needless death, coming up with a breakthrough on meningitis that our ancestors would have loved to have had access to.
Bacterial meningitis, generally speaking, is a rare but deadly infection that affects the meninges and can lead to quick and painful death if untreated. The good news is that the most common four strains have had vaccines available for years. The national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices recommends these be given routinely. New York State’s Health Department, which says that the vaccines are 85 to 100 percent effective, recommends them as well.
The state should require them, engage in a public awareness campaign regarding their safety and effectiveness, and increase the penalties for non-adoption.
Likewise, the “B” vaccine has just become available in the last three years. The disease is rare, but even with treatment — not always given because it strikes so fast — between 10 and 15 percent of people afflicted end up being killed by this particular strain.
We should mandate this vaccine as well. Fortunately, a push is being made by a group of patient advocates and medical experts, including the mother of a girl who died as a result of meningitis B, to mandate these vaccines as well.
State Assemblywoman Aileen Gunther and state Sen. Kemp Hannon are proposing a bill that would require these meningitis vaccinations to be given to children who wish to attend school.
It should be expanded according to the recommendations of global health organizations — and passed without delay.
Steve Keller of Averill Park is a regular contributor to the Sunday Gazette.