Editor’s note: Today’s guest editorial originally appeared in The Columbian. Editorial content from other publications and authors is provided to give readers a sampling of regional and national opinion and does not necessarily reflect positions endorsed by the Editorial Board of The Daily News.
More than two months into the school year, it is difficult to assess the impact of a new immunization law. But parents should be aware that students must have the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine — or a valid exemption — lest they risk being removed from school.
The Legislature this year passed a bill limiting exemptions for the vaccine. No longer are parents allowed to claim a personal or philosophical exemption in eschewing the vaccine for their children. Medical and religious exemptions are still permitted.
Previously, school districts were required to report data on immunizations to the state Department of Health by Nov. 1. This year, in the wake of the law, the deadline has been pushed back to Dec. 1, delaying enforcement and the accumulation of data surrounding the new rule.
With or without the new requirement, it is essential for students to be vaccinated. Southwest Washington was the hub for a measles outbreak this year, with more than 70 cases being reported in Clark County. Measles was considered eradicated in the United States 20 years ago, but an anti-vaccine movement fueled by fraudulent science has opened the door for the disease to make a comeback.
Reps. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, and Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, led legislative efforts to pass House Bill 1638, eliminating some exemptions for immunization. The goal, health officials say, is 95 percent immunization among the population as a whole — the threshold for “herd immunity” that can protect against widespread outbreaks.
For some people, immunization still does not protect against measles. For others, various medical conditions can prevent them from receiving the vaccine. To protect them, being immunized should be regarded as a moral imperative for those who are able.
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In addition, there is new evidence about the importance of protecting against easily avoidable diseases. A study led by Harvard University researchers and released last month indicates that measles compromise the body’s ability to ward off other diseases.
Scientists dubbed the phenomenon as “immune amnesia,” because a patient’s immune system forgets how to fight viruses that can lead to, for example, influenza, pneumonia or strep throat. In severe cases, “they’re just as vulnerable as if they were infants,” one researcher said. A separate study out of Britain supported the findings.
Even without that newfound danger, measles should warrant concern. It is one of the world’s most contagious viruses, able to be spread through coughing or sneezing, even after the infected person has left the area. In serious cases, it can be fatal or leave children with brain damage or hearing loss.
We trust that attention generated by the outbreak will combine with the new law to increase immunization rates among Clark County students. But it will be interesting to see whether there is a jump in still-permissible religious and medical exemptions.
In September, Clark County Public Health Officer Dr. Alan Melnick said, “Medical exemptions are really rare. That’s going to be something we need to look at. Is there a small handful of health care providers who are handing these exemptions out?”
That might require additional legislation and will bear watching as school districts compile data on immunizations and work to enforce the law. For the sake of our children, we hope that parents will recognize the need for immunizations and will follow the law.