Diane Mufson: Vaccination exemptions are dangerous for everyone

September 28, 2018

The West Virginia Legislature is now planning their 2019 legislative agenda. One piece of proposed legislation would make it much easier for parents to have their children exempted from required communicable disease immunizations. This is dangerous for everyone’s health.

Childhood communicable diseases, which were abundant in my youth, are no longer prevalent in First World nations. Parents no longer check for the telltale spots of measles, rubella (German measles), the deep cough of whooping cough or the immensely swollen saliva glands of mumps. The ravages of polio, which affected many in my youth, are almost forgotten.

Massive immunizations have wrapped our nation in a protective cocoon. Yet outbreaks do occur because too many parents refuse to immunize their children.

For vaccines to be effective, “herd immunity” is needed. At least 95 percent of the population must be fully immunized. The small number of children with health issues who are exempt from immunizations need the protection of the immunized group. When that number is lower, these diseases spread easily, as has happened with measles on college campuses and at Disneyland in 2015. California adopted vaccination requirements just like West Virginia’s because ours have been so effective in preventing illnesses.

Vaccines have caused fear since inception. After the smallpox vaccine was introduced in Europe in the 1800s, an anti-vaccine league in Leicester, England, organized a protest of about 100,000 people. Now, the smallpox vaccine is accepted worldwide.

The most recent anti-vaccine movement got a shot in its arm in 1999 when British physician Andrew Wakefield, who has had his medical license revoked, published an article in the Lancet, a well-respected British medical journal, linking bowel disease, autism and the MMR vaccine. The Lancet later retracted his paper, and many new studies showed Wakefield’s work was bogus but financially benefited him.

Again we are on the anti-vaccine bandwagon. West Virginia State Sen. Lynne Arvon, R-Raleigh, proposed a bill to make it easier for parents to avoid having their children vaccinated. She said, “Too much government is involved in the current system I strongly believe in the doctor-and-patient relationship.”

Most reputable and well-respected infectious disease specialists, including my husband, Maury, support mandatory vaccinations with exceptions for extreme health conditions. Others, such as Dr. Alvin Moss, a Morgantown nephrologist, confuse cause and effect. He said West Virginia has a very restrictive policy for exemptions and yet West Virginia’s children rank 46 in overall health and “our immunization policy is not getting us better health for our children.” Most health care specialists agree that West Virginia’s children’s health problems are due to obesity, diabetes, poverty and more and would be worse off without our present vaccination requirements. Moss’ analogy is similar to those who point out that there are more drownings on days when large quantities of ice cream are consumed.

Thankfully, West Virginia has had one of the strongest immunization policies, preventing communicable disease outbreaks as suffered in other states with weaker immunization requirements.

Tell your legislators that Sen. Arvon’s plan will hurt West Virginia’s children, especially those who are not immunized. We need “herd immunity,” which our present laws provide. Unlimited or frequent vaccine exceptions are dangerous for everyone.

Diane W. Mufson is a retired psychologist. Her email is dwmufson@comcast.net.

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