Our Voice: Vaccine opposition may see more consequences

Parents in Washington state who don’t believe in immunizing their children will have a harder time enrolling them in school under a proposal making its way through the Legislature.

And while this change is not a complete remedy, it still should help stem the spread of certain diseases in our schools and communities.

Currently, Washington allows schools to exempt children who have not been immunized if their parents have a religious, medical, personal or philosophical opposition to vaccines. House Bill 2009 removes the personal and philosophical exemptions.

State law requires students be up to date on five specific vaccinations: measles, mumps and rubella, or MMR; polio; Hepatitis B; varicella, or chickenpox and diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, or DTaP.

Nearly 200 students in Kennewick, 900 in Richland and 950 in Pasco were not up to date on their shots during the 2013-14 school year, according to state health records.

Some parents are simply behind in getting their children vaccinated, but of those who oppose immunizations, most claim their personal beliefs as a reason for the exemption. If the law is changed, those parents could have a tough time keeping their children in school.

The debate between personal choice and public health is a tricky call. But preventable diseases are on the rise and there is concern serious outbreaks may be on the horizon if people are not immunized.

For example, in 2000 the United States had eliminated measles because of a strong vaccination program, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Since then, however, the disease has started to make a comeback. In the U.S., the annual number of people reported to have measles ranged from a low of 37 in 2004 to a high of 644 people in 2014, according to the CDC.

A measles outbreak in December at Disneyland in California is the recent catalyst for changing the current school exemption policy. The disease spread throughout the country for several weeks and sickened more than 100 people.

Realizing a disease that was once eradicated is now causing this kind of havoc is alarming.

While most people recover from measles, it is still considered a deadly disease. It can cause brain swelling called encephalitis and pneumonia.

Internationally, measles is one of the leading causes of deaths among children, according to the World Health Organization. Its report said that in 2013, there were 145,700 measles deaths globally. That’s 400 deaths a day or 16 every hour.

Those are not encouraging statistics.

Medical science has shown vaccines to be safe and effective, but those who oppose vaccines don’t trust the research.

They have a right to avoid immunizing themselves and their kids. They don’t, however, have the right to put others at risk.

The health of a community needs to come first.