OZAUKEE PRESS EDITORIAL: ‘Personal conviction’ threatens state’s health

An American astronaut who left on a deep space mission in 2000 and returned to Earth in 2019 would find many changes but perhaps none more bewildering than the fact that Americans are getting sick with measles again.

When the imagined astronaut left, the disease had been declared eradicated in the U.S., thanks to what has been called one of the most important health advances in history—the measles vaccine.

But in 2018 there were hundreds of measles cases in 17 outbreaks of the disease in the U.S.; 2019 is on pace to have more.

The return of measles is not the result of some mutation of the measles germ that renders the vaccine ineffective.

Rather, this alarming backward step in the state of health in the U.S. is caused by parents who refuse to have their children vaccinated.

Their numbers are increasing. It is a trend that is leaving more

Americans vulnerable to one of the most contagious and lethal of all human diseases.

The threat is greater in Wisconsin than in most states, because ours is one of only 17 that allows parents to avoid complying with vaccination requirements for children with a “personal conviction” waiver, which can be obtained by simply signing a paper.

The unfounded fear that the measles vaccine causes autism is the major driver of the anti-vaccination movement.

The fear derives in large part from conspiracy theories fostered on the internet.

Numerous scientific studies detailed in a lengthy report by the American Academy of Pediatrics have found no link whatsoever between vaccines and autism.

While the autism connection is a myth, the menace of measles is an incontrovertible fact.

“A single person infected with the virus can infect more than a dozen unvaccinated people, typically infants too young to have received their first measles shot,” Peter J. Hotez, a pediatrician at Baylor College of Medicine who is considered an authority on vaccine development, wrote in the New York Times.

From the history of measles it is known that nine of 10 people who are exposed to measles and have not been vaccinated will get the disease.

In the 1950s, four million Americans a year came down with measles and 450 died.

Around the world, 100,000 children still die from measles each year.

Victims of measles can suffer permanent neurological damage from brain swelling that can also cause blindness and deafness.

The connection between low rates of immunization and measles outbreaks is obvious.

The worst outbreak so far in 2019, with more than 50 measles cases in children under 10, occurred in Clark County, Wash., which has one of the country’s lowest vaccination rates.

Only 78% of the school-age population there is vaccinated, compared to the 90% to 95% vaccination rate the U.S. Centers for Disease Control says is needed for a reasonable expectation of community protection from measles.

All states require children to be vaccinated before they can attend school; all allow medical exemptions and most grant religious exemptions.

But about a third of the states, including two current hotbeds of measles cases, Washington and Oregon, and Wisconsin, also give waivers to parents who just don’t want their children to get the shots.

In the last school year, only four states had higher rates of non-medical exemptions than Wisconsin. Bayfield County had one of the highest rates in the country.

Dr. Patrick Remington, associate dean of public health at the University of Wisconsin-Madison and a former CDC researcher, succinctly articulated the consequences of falling vaccination rates: “In communities where vaccination rates drop, it is just a matter of time until that community sees an outbreak and then it will be too late.”

Though the resurgence of measles is a medical problem, its solution has to come from politicians—the legislators who make the laws governing school attendance.

In Wisconsin, an Assembly bill to eliminate the personal conviction exemption failed two years ago.

That effort needs to be revived, and if abolishing the exemption is too big a step, legislation that at least requires parents requesting a waiver to receive training in the dangers to their children and others in refusing vaccination should be enacted.

Lawmakers have an understandable aversion to mandating what decisions parents make about their children’s health, but in this case the need to lend authority to the social compact that places the responsibility to act for the betterment of society on citizens outweighs it.   

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Ozaukee Press

Wisconsin’s largest paid circulation community weekly newspaper. Serving Port Washington, Saukville, Grafton, Fredonia, Belgium, as well as Ozaukee County government. Locally owned and printed in Port Washington, Wisconsin.

125 E. Main St.
Port Washington, WI 53074
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