There was a time when a mother would hear her child cough and wonder if she would soon be praying over a small grave. There was a time when localized polio outbreaks gripped communities in terror. A time when tetanus killed about 10 percent of the people infected with it.
Those days are mostly over, thanks to widespread vaccination programs that protect Americans against these and a wide variety of other serious, contagious diseases.
But another contagious disease is spreading, and the only really accurate name for it is "willful ignorance." Increasingly, parents are defying all logic and scientific fact — and refusing to have their children vaccinated. It's a trend that state health officials should take seriously and, at the very least, take a strong public stand against.
Florida requires several vaccinations for students enrolled in public school, including diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough or pertussis (given in a combined vaccine known as DTap); polio; measles, mumps, rubella (another combo, called MMR); varicella or chicken pox; hepatitis B and Haemophilus influenzae type b (also known as Hib). The number of shots can be daunting, and no parent likes to see their child cry. But it's far better than the alternative, which is watching diseases that should be extinct come creeping back.
When asked, parents cite multiple reasons for not wanting to vaccinate their children. None of them have scientific validity. The link between autism and vaccination has been thoroughly debunked. Some parents say they are afraid of mercury in vaccines, but most vaccinations given to children don't contain mercury.
None of those reasons, fortunately, can excuse a child from vaccinations under Florida law. But there's one excuse that does: If parents claim some kind of religious exemption to vaccination.
On that provision of the law, Florida lawmakers should ask themselves one question. Is there a single, organized religion that frowns on vaccination? A quick investigation reveals no major religion in the United States that has a "canonical objection" to childhood vaccinations.
Yet claims of religious exemptions are up — steeply.
It's hard to believe so many families are acolytes of some secret, anti-science religion that proscribes vaccination. It's far more likely these parents — having never seen these horrible diseases for themselves — can't comprehend the risk they are taking and are too easily swayed by internet misinformation and celebrities proclaiming they are "better safe than sorry."
The worst thing is that these parents are risking other children's lives as well. There are children who can't be vaccinated — including very young babies and children with autoimmune disorders. A case of a generally mild disease, such as measles, might kill or permanently disable such a vulnerable child.
For most children, however, there is only one physical condition proven to be connected with childhood vaccination. It's called "adulthood." Immunizing children means giving them a shot at growing up healthy. It's hard to imagine any objection — let alone a religious one — to that.
REPRINTED FROM THE PANAMA CITY NEWS HERALD
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