We can prevent measles - Brownsville Herald: Letters To The Editor

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We can prevent measles

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Posted: Tuesday, March 26, 2019 11:15 pm


Should people have the right to endanger the health and even the lives of newborn babies?

Almost all people would say no. Yet that is precisely what people are doing when they choose not to vaccinate their children against measles.

The vaccination schedule for children established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention calls for babies to receive their first shot against measles, mumps and rubella when they are 12 months old. For the first year of life, they are unprotected against one of the most contagious diseases around.

If you put 100 unvaccinated people into a room where they are exposed to measles, 90 of them will get sick. The virus can live in the air and on surfaces up to two hours after the infected person has left. This means that even a vaccinated child can bring the virus home, in the form of a book or toy that was recently touched by an infected classmate, to a baby sibling.

Mothers of babies in Clark County, Wash., are keeping their infants at home, afraid to go to libraries or even grocery stores where a measles outbreak has so far sickened 62 people, most of them unvaccinated children. Smaller outbreaks have begun afflicting other counties in the state.

New York has had an even bigger outbreak, with nearly 200 cases. In New Jersey, 33 people have been stricken. And here in Texas, close to 10 people have fallen ill so far; let’s hope the number doesn’t get any bigger.

Many parents who don’t want their children vaccinated think it is a simple matter of personal choice. I’ll take the risk that my children might get measles, they reason, while other parents can choose not to take that risk and their kids would stay healthy. But it’s not that simple. Many parents who do everything right in terms of vaccination still face the risk that their children will get measles during an outbreak.

First, of course, there are all the babies who cannot yet be vaccinated. Then there are children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. They might be undergoing chemotherapy, for example, which compromises their immune system. The number of children who legitimately qualify for a medical exemption to vaccination laws is very small, but they still should have the right to attend school without fear.

A third category of children also is endangered: As effective as the measles vaccine is, it still does not protect absolutely every child. Remember those 100 people in the room who are exposed to the measles virus? If all of them had been vaccinated, only three of them still would fall ill. But in a school of 1,000 children, that would be 30 vaccinated children who might fall ill.

This is why you probably have heard the phrase “herd immunity” many times. When all the children who can safely be vaccinated get their shots, the immunity of the vast majority protects the vulnerable others.

Many people think of measles as “just a childhood disease.” Before children were routinely vaccinated, 400 to 500 Americans died each year from measles and close to 50,000 were hospitalized. People worry about the side effects of the measles vaccine, but those are so rare as to be nearly unmeasurable. Measles, though, can have very serious side effects. About 4,000 measles victims each year used to develop measles encephalitis, a swelling of the brain that could lead to deafness and other permanent injuries.

In other words, measles isn’t “just” anything. It is a serious threat to our health and lives. Failure to vaccinate our children puts other children, including tiny babies, in harm’s way. We owe them better than that.

Allison Winnike, J.D., is president and CEO of the Immunization Partnership, a nonprofit vaccine advocacy and education organization serving the state of Texas.

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