West Virginia Republican Lynne Arvon has drafted a bill that would make it easier for children to receive an exemption to attend public schools without being vaccinated.
Legislators decided Tuesday to draft a bill to make it easier for families to get medical exemptions from vaccines for their children.
Sen. Lynne Arvon, a Raleigh County Republican who is on the Joint Committee on Children and Families, motioned to create a bill looking at how to make this process easier for families. She said too much government is involved in the current system.
The basis of the bill is to allow an exemption to be granted as long as any medical doctor approves of the exemption. The problem with this idea is that as the demand for vaccination exemptions has increased, due to a wholly unfounded fear of vaccinations, an increase in unscrupulous anti-vaccination doctors has occurred.
When Andrew Brandeis encounters patients who are skeptical about vaccines at his family-practice clinic in San Francisco, he doesn’t toe the typical pediatrician party line—that the standard vaccine schedule is a must-do. Instead, he might help the patient delay or space out their child’s shots beyond the recommendations of public-health agencies, if they so desire.
Brandeis is one of a sizable number of doctors who allow their patients to avoid or delay vaccines if they are concerned about their health effects. It’s unknown how many of these physicians there are, but dozens of names—some even organized by state—come up on earthy mommy blogs and other web communities. “We are hoping to find a pediatrician/pediatric group in the … area who is an MD, but open-minded to alternative medicine, as well as less aggressive vaccination schedules,” wrote one California parent on the Berkeley Parents Network in December.
Just as the opioid epidemic has been fueled in many cases by a small percentage of unscrupulous doctors who developed a reputation for over-prescribing medications, there is also a risk that doctors who give vaccination exemptions could develop a reputation as well, leading to a marked increase in unvaccinated children in certain localities, which can be very dangerous for people who have compromised immune systems due to a medical condition.
Not getting immunizations also isn’t fair to children and adults who rely on others being vaccinated because they can’t get vaccines for medical reasons, Pelinka said.
“There are now millions of people in the U.S. who are immunocompromised,” Luedtke said. They may be getting chemotherapy for cancer, take drugs to prevent their body from rejecting a donor organ, have a disease like lupus that attacks the immune system, or be too young to get a vaccine.
For example, whooping cough is a relatively minor disease in adults and older children, Luedtke said. But for infants, who can’t get the whooping cough vaccine until they’re 2 months old, it can cause major breathing problems, lead to pneumonia and death. According to the Centers for Disease Control, about half of the babies who get whooping cough end up in the hospital. Since 2010, about 20 babies each year have died from whooping cough, according to the CDC. Most of the babies who died were too young to get the vaccine.
An increased aversion to vaccines has also led to several recent outbreaks and resurgences of diseases that had until fairly recently been almost completely contained by widespread vaccinations.
Case Study: 2017 Minnesota Measles Outbreak
The 2017 Minnesota measles outbreak is a quintessential example of what can happen to populations with low vaccination coverage. (The existing immunizations statute in Minnesota does not outwardly recognize religion as a reason for claiming an exemption, however, the non-medical exemption may include religious beliefs.) The outbreak was largely confined to a group of Somali immigrants, whose vaccination rates declined to approximately 40% in 2017, amid fears of a vaccine-autism linkage. As seen in the above table, a community needs to have a minimum of 83-94% vaccination coverage to maintain herd immunity against measles. This community had less than half of the coverage necessary to protect them from infection. Among 79 total cases in this measles outbreak, 71 were confirmed to be unvaccinated. Measles is highly infectious, so it’s no surprise that the disease took hold in a community of unvaccinated people.
And the beliefs that have been influencing the anti-vaccine movement are based on a completely bogus study that was long ago proven to be fraudulent.
The vaccine-autism myth is one chilling example of fraudulent science. February 28, 2018 marks the 20th anniversary of an infamous article published in the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet, in which Andrew Wakefield, a former British doctor, falsely linked the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine to autism. The paper eventually was retracted by the co-authors and the journal. Wakefield was de-licensed by medical authorities for his deceit and “callous disregard” for children in his care. It took nearly two decades for the UK immunization rates to recover. By the end, UK families had experienced more than 12,000 cases of measles, hundreds of hospitalizations — many with serious complications — and at least three deaths.
In the U.S., measles was declared eliminated in 2000. Since 2000, however, there has been a resurgence of measles, with more than 2,216 reported cases. Wakefield’s anti-vaccine fanaticism contributed to the 2015 outbreak in Disneyland in California, which eventually infected more than 130 people, and to the 2017 measles outbreaks in Minnesota, where his message persuaded many parents not to vaccinate their children.
The vaccine-autism myth has also prompted an alarming number of millennials — the generation that came of age in the era of Wakefield’s misinformation —in the U.S. not to vaccinate their children. Vaccine reluctance does not apply just to measles; flu kills 100 to 300 children under age 5 each year, and up to 85% of them were not vaccinated when they died.
Vaccines have provided an immense service in preventing disease and death in the developed world. The medical and scientific community has unfortunately been forced to fight a battle against unsubstantiated paranoia in order to remind and inform the public of the benefit and necessity of vaccines. The anti-science dogma that has lately become a staple of Republican politicians is now making that job even more difficult.