Take a Shot for the Common Good
By State Rep. David Perryman
San Francisco is famous for its cable car lines. Since cable cars have controls only in their front end, they must be turned around at each end of the line. Turntables have been used for centuries when trains are “headed in the wrong direction.” On a number of levels, Oklahoma is in serious need of a massive turntable.
One area that needs such a 180-degree reversal relates to childhood immunization and the declining rate of vaccination.
In Oklahoma, the problem is twofold. Even though scientists have produced vaccines that have all but wiped out polio, measles, mumps, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), meningitis and other serious infections, parents have become lax about their children’s shots. Secondly, despite a number of outbreaks around the country over the past 24 months, a group of Oklahoma parents are pushing back against mandatory vaccination.
Two years ago, 17 states were experiencing outbreaks of measles. Nearly every other state heard the wake-up call and began tightening their childhood immunization laws to counter the epidemic, but Oklahoma headed the other direction with efforts to expand the vaccination requirement exceptions.
Nowhere in society is “the common good” more applicable than the area of immunization. Because of a concept called “herd immunity” the refusal to immunize is an open invitation for a number of preventable diseases to “go viral” in the traditional sense of the phrase.
So in a pre-vaccination world – where the U.S. had 16,000 cases of polio per year and now has zero and had 530,000 cases of measles per year and now has around 100 – there can be little debate over the value of a vaccinated population.
For U.S. children born in 2009, routine childhood immunizations are projected to prevent 42,000 early deaths and 20 million cases of disease, according to Vaccinate Oklahoma.
Herd immunity exists when the vaccination of a significant portion of a population provides protection to those who have not yet developed immunities or who have not been vaccinated. According to the Centers for Disease Control and the World Health Organization, so long as 94% of the population has received the measles vaccine, herd immunity exists. According to Vaccinate Oklahoma, only 73% of Oklahoma’s children have received all recommended vaccines.
During the 2014-15 school year, 571 Oklahoma children who were not fully vaccinated were allowed to use loopholes and enroll in school, thereby placing other children at risk.
Unimmunized children are susceptible to preventable diseases, can transmit infections to individuals who have compromised immune systems, and can contribute to outbreaks of disease such as the measles epidemic that started at Disneyland in late 2014.
The proverbial “bottom line” is that you and I have children and grandchildren with immature immunity systems, and elderly parents with compromised immunity systems, who are being placed at risk because of non-immunized persons who have been misinformed about vaccines.
Claims that vaccines are unsafe have been disproven by a robust body of medical literature, including a thorough review by the National Academy of Medicine. Despite claims to the contrary, thousands of studies with hundreds of thousands of subjects from all over the world have failed to show a link between autism or any other neurodevelopmental illness for that matter, according to reports of Vaccinate Oklahoma and Dr. Thomas Kuhls, its president.
“The anti-vaccine movement has forced scientists and public health officials to rigorously scrutinize the safety of vaccines, over and over again,” Dr. Kuhls says.
Now is the time to find Oklahoma’s turntable and reverse course on attempts to discredit vaccinations. Let’s get the train headed in the right direction by strengthening Oklahoma’s immunization requirements. Take a shot for the common good.
(Representative Perryman is a Democrat from Chickasha.)