Legislators Need to End Most Vaccine Exemptions

Eve Meltzer-Krief MD, FAAP

Eve Meltzer-Krief MD, FAAP

(Dr. Eve Meltzer-Krief MD, FAAP is a pediatrician in Huntington and member of the NYS AAP Chapter 2 Immigration and Legislative Advocacy Committees.)

NYS Legislators: Please Support Bill that Will Allow Only  Medical Exemptions to Vaccination, S.02994 and A.02371

Vaccination has been the most important and impactful scientific achievement of modern times.  Yet because of misinformation fueled by social media, there remain pockets of unvaccinated children whose parents hide behind a cloak of religious exemption as protection from unfounded fears.  There are, in fact, no major religions that prohibit vaccination.  Sadly, these parents have put not only their own children at risk but the communities in which their children live, play and attend school.  The current measles outbreak is evidence of what happens when children go unvaccinated.

Measles is a highly contagious virus.  The current outbreak has now infected 695 people in 22 states.  Measles can lead to pneumonia, a brain infection called encephalitis, deafness, a prolonged immunocompromised state, and a rare complication called SSPE or subacute sclerosing panencephalitis that can occur years after infection and is fatal.  In 1962, the year before the measles vaccine was available, 3-4 million people were diagnosed with measles, 48,000 were admitted to hospitals and 500 people died.  By the year 2000, measles had been eliminated from the United States because of the vaccine.  However because of growing numbers of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children, we have begun to see increased outbreaks in recent years, with this year’s being the largest since the disease was eliminated nearly twenty years ago.

Particularly susceptible to serious illness in these outbreaks are infants under one year old who have not yet been vaccinated, and immunocompromised children and adults who are receiving or have recently received chemotherapy and other immunosuppressives to treat cancer and chronic diseases.

Vaccines save lives.  The Hib vaccine has virtually eliminated disease caused by Haemophilus Influenzae B which before its introduction in the late 1990’s affected 25,000 children yearly, causing meningitis, paralysis, blindness, pneumonia and a severe life-threatening respiratory illness called epiglottis.  Since the introduction of the Prevnar vaccine in 2000 there has been a dramatic decline in rates of meningitis, blood infections and other invasive life threatening disease caused by pneumococcal bacteria.

Vaccines are scientifically proven to be safe and effective and have saved tens of millions of lives over the past several decades.  Parents today are lucky to live in a time when we do not have to live in fear of our children contracting serious and deadly diseases.  However the current outbreak has demonstrated that if parents fall prey to misinformation and fail to properly vaccinate their children they put their own children at risk as well as the most vulnerable among us.

The American Academy of Pediatrics representing 67,000 pediatricians across the country is advocating for an end to state laws that allow people to refuse vaccination of their children on religious or philosophical grounds.  I urge NYS legislators in the Senate and Assembly to pass S.02994 and A.02371.  This bill will allow only medical exemptions to vaccination.  I implore our legislators to believe science and to protect children and at risk residents in our state.

I implore parents and community members who understand the importance of vaccination to ask their NYS legislators to support the bill.   It is always tragic when children die or develop devastating long term consequences from disease.  However the most tragic of those are cases that are entirely preventable.  Let us not fail our children.  Let us not fail those among us who are immunocompromised, who are too young to get vaccinated or who are undergoing treatment that prevents them from getting vaccinated.  These individuals, parents and children live in fear during outbreaks such as we are experiencing now.  Let us not deny them the protection they need and are entitled to.