AP NEWS

Editorial Reconsider religious exemptions for measles vaccine

May 5, 2019

Immunization data released by the state Friday for the first time revealed a shocking number of public and private schools in Connecticut with low protection against measles, mumps and rubella diseases.

While outbreaks of measles cases, once thought eradicated in 2000, have erupted in other states such as New York and California, Connecticut seemed relatively immune with only three cases reported this year.

But the report released by the state Department of Public Health shows the stunning fact: 108 public and private schools are below the 95 percent immunization rate for measles, mumps and rubella recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The percentage is important. Above that amount is what health officials call a “herd” immunity, which protects the few who might not be vaccinated. Below that amount, however, the highly contagious diseases can take hold.

Measles is dangerous. Severe complications include pneumonia and encephalitis, “as many as one of every 20 children with measles will get pneumonia, the most common cause of death from measles in young children,” according to the CDC. “About one child out of every 1,000 who get measles will develop encephalitis (swelling of the brain) that can lead to convulsions and can leave the child deaf or with intellectual disability.”

For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it, the CDC states.

With the national health scare over the measles outbreak, we credit new DPH Commissioner Renee D. Coleman-Mitchell for releasing the previously confidential school-by-school information. This is a true public service. Undoubtedly every parent seeing the report, immediately checked their child’s school.

At least 36 schools had kindergartner measles immunization rates below 90 percent, including in New Haven, Bridgeport, Westport and Stamford. Five schools had immunization rates for seventh graders below 90 percent, including in Newtown and New Haven, according to the state. Rates between 90 and 92 percent were found in Greenwich, Guilford, Stamford, and Bridgeport.

Gov. Ned Lamont found the data “startling.”

“This cannot become a public health crisis as we have seen in other states,” he said. “Making sure all of our young students in Connecticut are safe is the number one priority.”

The question is, what can be done? And what ought to be done.

Immunization is required for school attendance, but the state allows exemptions for religious or medical reasons.

It is time to examine the propriety of religious exemptions. No major religion preaches against vaccinating children, it is not part of the canon.

Individual beliefs are putting others at risk. People who can’t be immunized for medical reasons or are too young can be put in danger. Schools, where children are in close quarters, are petri dishes for colds — and worse — which then get spread at home and public places.

Education must be part of the response. The measles vaccine does not cause autism, reputable studies show.

Measles can be prevented. No child should have to endure the disease, or possibly die from it, because of those who refuse to vaccinate.