Several outbreaks of measles and other infectious diseases are leaving some states questioning public schools’ personal and religious exemptions to vaccines. A growing number of parents convinced by the myth that vaccines cause autism and other conditions have been using school vaccine exemptions, causing fewer kids to be protected against contagious and sometimes fatal diseases.
“Every American should be alarmed by the current measles outbreaks occurring in many states,” said John Wiesman, the secretary of health at the Washington State Department of Health.
Monroe County has seen seven reported measles cases as of February, but Rockland County has now reported 161 cases. Rockland recently opened a free measles vaccine clinic to combat the spread of the disease. Vaccines prevent over 2.5 million unnecessary deaths every year.
“Measles is an entirely preventable disease and we must redouble our efforts as a nation to spread the truth that vaccines save lives and address parental concerns about vaccinating their children,” said Wiesman.
The number of measles cases in the U.S. has already reached the second-largest figure in two decades with 387 cases in 15 states in just three months.
Iowa is just one state that has been trying to move legislation that would require immunizations in schools. Unfortunately, legislation has been stalling due to debates over religious beliefs. One recent bill aimed to eliminate religious exemptions to vaccines altogether, but none are currently expected to advance.
Schools have allowed exemptions to vaccines for religious purposes for years. But the exemptions have only now become a problem because of the number of parents not vaccinating their children.
Known as herd immunity, when a high proportion of the population is immune to a disease, there’s greater resistance to the spread of that disease. In this case, when a high proportion of the population is vaccinated against measles, the disease doesn’t spread as quickly. This protects those who can’t be vaccinated because of their age, weak immune system, or religious beliefs.
But because of the anti-vaccination myths that have been boosted by social media, more and more parents are taking advantage of schools’ personal and religious exemptions to vaccines.
“Recent disease outbreaks across the U.S. in recent years illustrate that some Americans are not taking advantage of opportunities to protect themselves, their families, and their communities from preventable diseases,” said Polly Carver-Kimm, the communications director at the U.S. Department of Health.
“Vaccines prevent diseases,” said Carver-Kimm, “and save lives.”