As fall approaches and our kids are starting back to school around the country, there will be a plethora of things to check off the list to prepare for the upcoming year. New school supplies? Check. New backpack? Check. Sweet new wardrobe? Check. Summer reading assignment completed? Check.
Immunizations up to date?
In 2013, Colorado ranked 45th in the nation for vaccination rates for children between the ages of 19 months and 3 years. This is particularly disheartening, since infants and young children are four times more likely than older individuals to be hospitalized for a serious vaccine-preventable disease (source).
These statistics are also surprisingly low since Colorado state law requires all children who attend grades K-12, as well as daycare and preschool, to follow a pre-determined vaccine schedule. However, Colorado state law also still recognizes the right for parents and legal guardians to abstain from vaccinating their children for medical, religious, or personal reasons and it is way too simple to obtain and sign the form for exemption rights–just a quick search online and a swipe of a pen and the vaccination requirements can be bypassed.
Even though the data continues to show an overwhelming support for the safety of vaccines in Colorado (source), parents are still really polarized in the pro v. against debate.
And frankly, I just don’t get it. At all.
When it comes to vaccines, you have LOADS of scientific data to support their safety and the importance of their use in a global society. There are also the countless medical professionals who continue to try and educate and inform patients around the state. Dr. James Todd, director of epidemiology at Children’s Hospital Colorado, explains in an interview with 5280 that when vaccination rates fall, “…it increases the likelihood that it (disease) will spread from the little community who has chosen to be unvaccinated to the child who couldn’t get a vaccine for medical reasons or has an underlying condition and may be more vulnerable to getting that disease.” He goes on to say when unvaccinated kids are exposed, “…it’s only a matter of time when one will come down with a terrible disease. Then parents will really regret that they didn’t vaccinate their child. All it has to do is catch fire in a group of unvaccinated kids.” (source)
I feel very passionately about the importance of vaccinating our population. For me, all the data lead to a simple conclusion: we need to take care of the herd. There are thousands of kids in the U.S. who, for legitimate medical reasons, are unable to be vaccinated. Also, there are millions around the world who lack the societal and public health infrastructures that we so luckily have at our fingertips, here in the U.S. When parents choose not to vaccinate a perfectly healthy child, they not only run the risk of their child acquiring a potentially life-threatening disease, but more importantly they expose vulnerable populations to a completely preventable threat.
And this is not only an issue for kids. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), an average of 226,000 people are hospitalized due to influenza each year in the U.S., and between 3,000 and 49,000 people die of influenza and its complications. The majority of these deaths are adults (source). In other words, your child may contract and recover from the flu or other vaccine-preventable diseases with no complications, while his or her grandparent may not.
Simply put, to choose not to vaccinate is insensitive, irresponsible, and disrespectful of our global society, and to all those who have legitimate reasons for being unable to be vaccinated.
It is our responsibility as citizens of a global community, who have so much more wealth and opportunity at our disposal than the majority, to lead the pack in keeping our population healthy so that we can focus on keeping others healthy, too. It is appalling to me that we would feel entitled to choose not to participate in medical advancements that have saved millions of lives and will continue to save millions more. In my opinion, this is not a choice. This is an obligation as a member of a community.