Monday, December 1, 2008

We Must Maintain Immunization Laws


By Dr. Joe Donaldson

Just 100 years ago when childhood diseases like measles, mumps, and whopping cough were more prevalent, too many children lost their sight, their hearing, their mental aptitude, or worse, their life.

That is why Mississippi, just like every other state, requires that before children enter school they receive vaccinations to prevent what used to be common but serious childhood diseases.

Unfortunately, some parents in Mississippi are pushing to broaden exemptions from vaccination requirements from the current medical necessity exemption in the state law. Many of these parents simply do not believe in the efficacy of vaccinations. Some believe strongly that vaccinations contribute to childhood developmental problems, including autism, despite all science and evidence to the contrary.

Allowing parents to opt out of vaccination requirements for their children has two direct consequences.

First, it leaves the unvaccinated child susceptible to childhood diseases such as measles that can kill or handicap a child for life. A child who is exempted from childhood vaccinations is 35 times more likely to get measles and 22 times more likely to get whooping cough as a vaccinated child.

Second, allowing a significant number of children to go unvaccinated reduces what is called “herd immunity,” and increases the chance that an epidemic of the disease will break out in the general population. Since no vaccine is 100 percent effective, disease prevention requires that most if not all people have immunity due to vaccinations so that the disease does not have the opportunity to find someone to infect. Even children and adults who were fully vaccinated have a small chance of contracting the disease if herd immunity is compromised. So parents who made sure that their child received all necessary vaccinations could see that child sicken and perhaps suffer long term disabilities because another parent chose not to vaccinate their child.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported that measles outbreaks have increased in the U.S. to 131 cases in the first eight months of 2008. Over 90 percent of the children who got measles were not vaccinated, and two-thirds of those cases were children who were not vaccinated because of philosophical or religious beliefs. Louisiana has seen a resurgence of whooping cough in 2008, with 45 cases reported in the first nine months of this year. In its worst form, whopping cough kills by making it impossible to breathe.

In 2003, the Arkansas State Legislature passed a law that allowed philosophical exemptions to childhood immunizations. Since that time, exemptions to vaccinations have increased by 369 percent, and state health officials are seeing outbreaks of virulent diseases in pockets around the state.

These outbreaks can be prevented in Mississippi. That is why the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics is joining with the Department of Health and other statewide medical associations to promote the benefits of childhood immunizations.

All parents should know that vaccines are effective, vaccines are safe, and state immunization requirements for school attendance are necessary to protect children from the terrible consequences of once common childhood diseases. Vaccines are constantly studied and tested to make sure they are safe. All doctors must report any possible serious reactions to vaccinations to the CDC.

We must maintain our state’s current vaccine medical exemption and oppose any efforts to weaken Mississippi’s childhood immunization laws -- for the sake of each Mississippi child and for the health of the entire state.
Donaldson is president of the Mississippi Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Copyright (C) 2008 by the Mississippi Forum. 12/08