The next culture war is making itself known in state legislatures around the country, on one side strengthening vaccination requirements for school children.
But on the other, efforts are headed in the opposite and wrong direction, to an off-ramp from sound medical practices. Families would have more leeway in deciding if they and their children should be inoculated against a dangerous and highly infectious disease – without a physician’s input.
This debate goes back more than a century, and so far science, medicine, ethics, cooler heads and opinion have prevailed on the side of what is good for public health, the general welfare and the advancement of civilization.
Such is the case here in West Virginia, too, where all school children, before they step inside a school building, must show proof that they have been immunized against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella and hepatitis B unless properly medically exempted.
And it is a law that has served the state well, one that benefits all West Virginians.
And yet, in the legislative session just ended there were efforts – with the support of Del. Tom Fast from Fayette County and Del. Brandon Steele from Raleigh County – to loosen exemptions to compulsory vaccination. According to the proposed legislation, Fast, Steele and company would have required only a notarized certification signed by a parent or legal guardian for a child to go unvaccinated. The certified signature of a licensed physician? No longer necessary.
West Virginia does not want its medical care to return to the Dark Ages and yet Fast and Steele would turn their backs on progress to appease anti-vaxxers, whose notion of sound medical care is at odds with the facts.
So it is in this environment that the question arises: What of the Covid-19 vaccine when it becomes available for all ages of children? Should it be required?
We know there will be no rounding up the entire population, from zero to 99, to get a shot. But we can insist that Covid-19 – as we did with mumps and rubella and polio – be treated as the serious health threat that it is. In a year’s time, more than a half-million people were killed by the disease here in the United States and more than 3 million worldwide. That says nothing of the 32 million who became infected with the disease.
Yes, as some are quick to point out, most children who become infected with the Covid-19 virus have only a mild illness. What they fail to mention is that children are very good transmitters of the disease and they, themselves, can go on to develop multisystem inflammatory syndrome in which some organs and tissues – such as the heart, lungs, blood vessels, kidneys, digestive system, brain, skin and eyes – become severely inflamed.
While deaths are rare among children – ranging up to 0.19 percent of all Covid-19 deaths from 43 states that report such statistics – there is much we do not yet know about the long-term effects of the disease, and we won’t for years to come.
It is, after all, a novel coronavirus, new to the world.
As such, taking the prudent course, vaccination would seem the best medicine.
Let us note, here, that because of a successful vaccination program, the United States has been polio-free since 1979.
And, yet, despite several studies showing the efficacy of mandatory vaccinations in reaching herd immunity, opposition to such a notion is widespread. We are seeing the manifestation of that now with what is being labeled as “vaccination hesitancy.”
Gov. Jim Justice is pounding the table, urging people to roll up their sleeves, just as he did, just as former President Trump did, too.
But the number of people in the state and in many other places around the country who are lining up for a shot has thinned. All of this flies in the face of medical facts and history that have documented and demonstrated how effective vaccines are in controlling and eliminating life-threatening infectious diseases. They are, in fact, estimated to avoid between 2 million and 3 million deaths each year.
And, yet, despite proven effectiveness of vaccines, some parents continue to have myriad concerns and misperceptions regarding childhood vaccinations, even in communities with high vaccination rates.
Clearly, there is more to do on the public education end of this important discussion. The World Health Organization says as much itself. Its working group on vaccine hesitancy has found that poor communication is an important factor in undermining acceptance. An honest discussion is being compromised, too, by those who purposefully spread disinformation and deliberate falsehoods, stories made up out of whole cloth. They choose not to trade in the currency of truth for theirs is a losing argument.
While we wait on the larger debate regarding mandatory vaccinations, and as we await further scientific discoveries of what feeds this virus and how it impacts humans, here is the bottom line in the here and now: The best thing you can do to protect yourself and your community, to stop Covid and its many variants in their tracks, is to make sure you and all of your loved ones get vaccinated. The sooner, the better.
Do not be dissuaded by those who should know better, and probably do, but just have a political card they are dying to play. Now is not the time to turn back the clock on medical advancements.
— The Register-Herald