In 2000, the Center for Disease Control declared measles eradicated in the United States. Since January 1st of this year, 78 cases have been linked to the highly publicized Disneyland outbreak. 82% of those infected are unvaccinated, either because they are too young or elected not to be. The state of Michigan allows any parent enrolling their child in public schools to opt out of the vaccination requirements if they feel it conflicts with their strongly-held beliefs (i.e. the philosophical exemption). In just the past 5 years, the exemption rate has increased by 23%. Michigan must end this practice if it is to keep its communities safe.
The Philosophical Exemption
The philosophical exemption disregards decades of research and medical advancement, placing the wishes of a single person above the safety and health of millions. Proponents of the exemption claim it is a personal choice. It is not. The diseases we vaccinate for do not discriminate between black, white, rich, or poor. They do not care what you choose to believe. They will infect your child and that child will infect others. Others like the 6 children infected at Disneyland who were too young to receive their vaccinations. If the decision is personal, why are their lives at risk?
A common misconception is that the vaccinated have nothing to worry about. The reality is that no vaccine is perfect. Even after a second dose, the MMR vaccine is only 95% effective. Immunity may wear off, or it never catches in the first place. Some children have medical reasons for not receiving a vaccine. Some have compromised immune systems from another disease. They are part of that personal decision.
Measles is a highly contagious respiratory disease. It begins with a fever, sore throat, runny nose, and a cough. Then comes the rash that spreads across the entire body. The unluckiest will develop more severe complications such as inflammation of the brain, pneumonia, and death. Young children are most likely to suffer the worst effects. They are part of that personal decision.
Our kindergarten vaccination waiver rate is 3 times higher than the national median. And the measles virus is certainly not the only danger. This past fall, Grand Traverse Academy, a school of 1,200, shut down for a week. They were at the center of one of the worst whooping cough (pertussis) outbreaks in recent memory. The health department confirmed close to 90 cases in the local community while hundreds more were quarantined for suspected cases. A 93% vaccination rate is considered the lowest limit acceptable for preventing outbreaks of measles and pertussis. Grand Traverse County has a kindergarten vaccination rate of 87%. For Grand Traverse Academy, that rate falls to 83%.
What You Can Do
In a statement, the 62,000 member strong American Academy of Pediatrics urges parents, schools and communities to commit to protecting our nation’s infants, children, adolescents and adults by vaccinating all children. Michigan cannot afford to stand by any longer while selfish individuals abuse a system that places everyone at risk. Contact your representative or senator and tell them that the philosophical exemption must end. If you do not know your representative, you can find them easily here. For your senator, here. The MLive Media Group has drafted a petition aiming to do the same.
And Why It Matters Most
I understand that it’s hard to conceptualize these diseases when discussing the danger they pose. For that reason, I find it prudent to share the video below as a reminder of why vaccination is so important. The infant below has pertussis. It is traumatic. The whooping/wheezing noise you hear is the infant’s involuntary gasps for breath. Whooping cough kills nearly 200,000 people a year, globally. 1 in 4 children her age will develop pneumonia.