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Editorials from around New York

January 23, 2019

Recent editorials of statewide and national interest from New York’s newspapers:

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The Times Union on legalizing marijuana in New York state

Jan. 22

New York’s possible legalization of recreational marijuana could have consequences for those who use it for medical reasons.

The state should ensure it doesn’t harm those who need the drug.

The money, the taxes, the benefits for farmers, the sense of social justice — oh, and the polls. Little wonder legalization of recreational marijuana in New York seems to be on the fast track.

But with all the talk of recreational marijuana, the effects of legalization on the state’s existing medical marijuana program seem to have gotten minimal attention. Whether it would help those who use marijuana for health reasons or make an imperfect program even worse is something the Legislature must weigh before it opens marijuana sales to all adults.

It’s worth remembering that New York created a uniquely intricate program when Gov. Andrew Cuomo and lawmakers agreed to legalize marijuana for medicinal use. Producers are highly regulated. The number of sales outlets is tightly limited. The product is available only in certain nonsmokable forms — vaping cartridges, pills, oil, and oral spray — in the interest of accurate dosing and health protection, the state says. Products are tested for cannabinoid content and purity. Doctors must take a state course and be certified to prescribe medical marijuana, and their patients approved by a doctor for a state registration card. Marijuana may be prescribed only for a limited set of ailments.

The result is that medical marijuana in New York is expensive — costing some patients upward of $1,000 a month. Less than two-thirds of the more than 98,000 people who registered last year actually got the drug.

Legalizing recreational marijuana could affect that program for both good and bad. It could prompt many people — perhaps half, by one medical marijuana industry estimate — to abandon it in favor of what would almost certainly be a cheaper product. That could drive prices even higher, or kill the state’s medical marijuana industry altogether.

The medical marijuana industry suggests that since it already has the cultivation and distribution infrastructure, one solution would be to allow it to sell both the medicinal and recreational products. The economy of scale, it says, could bring down the price of medical marijuana.

That idea, though, could clash with a social justice goal that’s been frequently raised in the discussion about full legalization — to allow low-income minority communities that for decades have been the prime targets of marijuana criminal enforcement to share in the benefits. One analytical firm predicts $1.3 billion in sales the first year, growing in three years to upward of $3 billion.

So there is a lot for the Legislature to analyze and debate here, starting with hearings. But the state’s original reason for getting into the marijuana business — to relieve people’s suffering — can’t be lost in the quest for tax revenue. When it comes to those who depend on marijuana to treat pain, seizures, post-traumatic stress disorder, severe nausea and other conditions, New York should keep in mind the mantra of healers: Do no harm.

Online: https://bit.ly/2TgD7so

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The New York Times on anti-vaccine ideology

Jan. 19

The World Health Organization has ranked vaccine hesitancy — the growing resistance to widely available lifesaving vaccines — as one of the top 10 health threats in the world for 2019. That news will not come as a surprise in New York City, where the worst measles outbreak in decades is now underway. Nor in California or Minnesota, where similar outbreaks unfolded in 2014 and 2017, respectively. Nor in Texas, where some 60,000 children remain wholly unvaccinated thanks in part to an aggressive anti-vaccine lobby.

Leading global health threats typically are caused by the plagues and perils of low-income countries — but vaccine hesitancy is as American as can be. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the percentage of children who are unvaccinated has quadrupled since 2001, even though the overall utilization of most vaccines remains high. More than 100,000 American infants and toddlers have received no vaccines whatsoever, and millions more have received only some crucial shots.

It’s no mystery how we got here. On the internet, anti-vaccine propaganda has outpaced pro-vaccine public health information. The anti-vaxxers, as they are colloquially known, have hundreds of websites promoting their message, a roster of tech- and media-savvy influencers and an aggressive political arm that includes at least a dozen political action committees. Defense against this onslaught has been meager. The C.D.C., the nation’s leading public health agency, has a website with accurate information, but no loud public voice. The United States Surgeon General’s office has been mum. So has the White House — and not just under the current administration. That leaves just a handful of academics who get bombarded with vitriol, including outright threats, every time they try to counter pseudoscience with fact.

The consequences of this disparity are substantial: a surge in outbreaks of measles, mumps, pertussis and other diseases; an increase in influenza deaths; and dismal rates of HPV vaccination, which doctors say could effectively wipe out cervical cancer if it were better utilized. But infectious disease experts warn that things could get much worse. Trust in vaccines is being so thoroughly eroded, they say, that these prevention tools are in danger of becoming useless. The next major disease outbreak “will not be due to a lack of preventive technologies,” Heidi Larson, a professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, writes in the journal Nature, but to an “emotional contagion, digitally enabled.”

Thwarting this danger will require a campaign as bold and aggressive as the one being waged by the anti-vaccination contingent. And to launch such a campaign would require overcoming strong inertia: a waning public health apparatus, countervailing politics and a collective amnesia over the havoc the diseases in question once wrought. But to succeed would be to rescue from oblivion one of the greatest triumphs of human ingenuity over disease — and to save countless lives.

Here’s how to get started.

Get tough. After the 2014 California measles outbreak, the state eliminated nonmedical exemptions for mandatory vaccinations. After a similar outbreak in Michigan, health officials there began requiring individuals to formally consult with their local health departments before opting out of otherwise-mandatory shots. In both cases, these tougher policies drove up vaccination rates. Other states ought to follow this lead, and the federal government should consider tightening restrictions around how much leeway states can grant families that want to skip essential vaccines.

Be savvy. The Vaccine Confidence Project is a London-based academic endeavor that monitors anti-vaccine websites for rumors and conspiracies and addresses them before the messages go viral. It also conducts regular surveys of attitudes and puts out a vaccine confidence index. Federal health officials would do well to implement a similar program, make it as public as possible and pair it with an aggressive and targeted social media campaign that makes as much use of celebrities as the anti-vaccine movement has.

Be clear. Vaccines, to some extent, are victims of their own success. In the United States especially, they’ve beaten so many infectious foes into oblivion that hardly any practicing doctors, let alone new parents, remember how terrible those diseases once were. An effective pro-vaccine campaign needs to remind us: Vaccines prevent two million to three million deaths globally each year. In developing countries, people line up for hours to get these shots. It’s also O.K. to get out of the gray zone. Scientists, especially, are uncomfortable with black-and-white statements, because science is all about nuance. But, in the case of vaccines, there are some hard truths that deserve to be trumpeted. Vaccines are not toxic, and they do not cause autism. Full stop.

Know the enemy. The arguments used by people driving the anti-vaccination movement have not changed in about a century. These arguments are effective because they are intuitively appealing — but they are also easily refutable. Instead of ignoring these arguments, an effective pro-vaccine campaign would confront them directly, over and over, for as long as it takes. Yes, there are chemicals in vaccines, but they are not toxic. No, vaccines can’t overwhelm your immune system, which already confronts countless pathogens every day.

Know the audience. Not every parent with concerns about vaccination is a rabid conspiracy theorist bent on resisting inoculation forever. In fact, studies suggest that less than 2 percent of all parents fall into this category. The rest of vaccine-hesitant families sit along a spectrum. Some reject all vaccines but are still open to receiving information. Others are only worried about one specific vaccine. And others still are merely anxious and looking for reliable information. Any successful campaign will need to mind this diversity and prioritize listening to concerns as much as dispelling myths.

Enlist the right support. Some doctors and scientists have referred to “uneventful vaccination” as “The Greatest Story Never Told.” Though they may not spread on the internet like the stories of terrible mishaps that anti-vaxxers traffic in, these far more common tales of inoculation without incident can be a powerful elixir for a nervous new parent. The best ambassadors of these stories are likely to be parents themselves. Surveys suggest that pro-vaccine families are often eager to help counter misinformation, but they don’t know where to start. If health officials corralled these families and trained them in the basics of vaccine science, they might succeed where official voices sometimes fail.

Online: https://nyti.ms/2T10FS4

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The Auburn Citizen on Republican U.S. Rep. John Katko

Jan. 23

We wish U.S. Rep. John Katko would stop trying to have it both ways on ending the government shutdown and hold firm to his previous stance that a border wall shouldn’t be part of the conversation about keeping the taxpayer-funded federal government running.

In the waning days of 2018, Katko voted in favor of a spending bill that would fund government operations but also directed $5.7 billion to build a wall along the southern border — an addition demanded by President Donald Trump after the Senate unanimously approved a measure with far less money for a wall. The result, as we all unfortunately know, was the partial shutdown that has lasted more than a month.

In an effort to end the shutdown, Katko broke party ranks at the start of this month and voted with Democrats on a measure to restart the government that did not include money for a wall. He explained that he voted for different versions of spending plans because “I’ve always believed that you need to keep the government open and it shouldn’t be subject to hostage situations with negotiations on substantive bills.”

But that’s exactly what the government shutdown is all about, with Trump being the one holding hostage the paychecks of federal workers and the funding for crucial services over a single, divisive issue: his demand for a wall.

So we find Katko’s recently expressed support for Trump’s new “compromise” offer disingenuous. The main thing Trump offered last weekend is to partially roll back some controversial immigration policies that are already being fought in court and may be overturned anyway.

Border security is an important issue, but it should be taken up as a standalone measure based on need and practicality. We thought that’s how Katko felt, but now it’s hard to tell.

An enormously expensive wall that most Americans don’t want must not be tied to reopening the government. At this point, we wish that Katko, rather than move further to the right, would work to get his fellow Republicans to negotiate a true bipartisan spending bill that has a chance of gaining acceptance by Democrats.

Online: https://bit.ly/2DvcZF6

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The Rome Sentinel on military veterans running for office

Jan. 18

Forty years ago, military veterans made up roughly three-quarters of Congress. By 2017, the proportion had dwindled to fewer than 1 in 5. The number of veterans on Capitol Hill will dip slightly again next year, because of retirements — but the elections of 2018 were nonetheless a turning point of sorts. At least 170 veterans received major-party nominations for national office, and at least 75 won office. (The figures are estimates: There’s no official tally.) Of these, at least 18 are new to Congress — the most in nearly a decade.

Americans should care about this.

Until an age of peace and harmony dawns — little sign of this yet — Congress needs the perspective and experience of former service members, particularly those who’ve served in the post-9/11 era. A shared background in the armed forces might help check the excessive partisanship that hobbles America’s system of government. And with polls showing Congress to be deeply unpopular, an influx of members from the institution Americans continue to respect the most certainly can’t hurt.

Veterans in larger numbers can’t fix what ails the country — but one expects that, as a group, they’ll bring discipline, duty and a commitment to country before politics. Congress has been lacking in those traits lately.

Online: https://bit.ly/2U9ZBLP

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Newsday on Mariano Rivera

Jan. 22

While our nation seems defined by its disagreements, there’s one thing on which we all seem to concur: Mariano Rivera. The Yankees’ peerless former closer became the first player selected to baseball’s Hall of Fame in a unanimous vote. Excellence and class are values we still share. That’s winning.

Online: https://nwsdy.li/2FJ19th

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