BY ALYSSA FAIRBANKS
Thank goodness West Virginia’s legislators came to their senses and didn’t advance SB 454 this year. As a nurse and a pediatric nurse practitioner student, I’m compelled to speak out about the detrimental effects that this bill would have had on the health of our children.
Vaccines protect all of us, especially children, from dangerous and highly contagious diseases that can cause serious medical problems and even death. Before a vaccine was created for diphtheria, in a single year over 15,000 Americans died from the disease. Since then, only two cases have been reported between 2004 and 2014.
Before there was a vaccine for rubella, an epidemic infected over 12.5 million Americans, caused 11,000 miscarriages, and killed 2,000 children. Nearly everyone in the United States got measles, and hundreds died each year before a vaccine was created. Now most medical providers have never even seen a case of the measles.
However, because of recent trends toward anti-vaccination, the United States is experiencing another measles outbreak with 314 confirmed cases in 15 states as of March 21.
West Virginia requires immunizations for chickenpox, hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, mumps, diphtheria, polio, rubella, tetanus and whooping cough in order to enter school or a state regulated childcare center.
West Virginia has some of the most restrictive immunization laws in the nation, only allowing for medical exemptions. The proposed bill would have allowed for religious and philosophical exemptions.
Allowing people to refuse vaccinations for religious and philosophical beliefs would be a huge step backwards for our state, which leads the nation in school-aged vaccination rates. The argument for expanded exemptions is that people should have the choice as to vaccinate their children or not.
This would be a valid argument if refusing vaccines only affected their children. Many children with certain underlying illnesses cannot be vaccinated, which makes them particularly at risk. It is through widespread vaccination that these vulnerable children are protected.
The anti-vaccination movement in the United States is largely due to false information circulated on the internet. Some claims are pretty scary such as vaccines include unsafe ingredients like mercury, or that vaccines cause autism or that vaccines actually overwhelm the immune system.
If any of this were true, as a pediatric health care provider, I would reject vaccines and I would tell my patients to do the same. But that just isn’t the case. All of these issues have been investigated and debunked. Nevertheless, anti-vaccination supporters jump on these claims, further propagating the spread of false information.
There are two types of mercury. Methylmercury is found in some fish and in high levels is dangerous to humans. This type of mercury is not used in vaccines. Ethylmercury, or thimerosal, another type of mercury, is a preservative used in vaccines.
Thimersol is eliminated from the body so quickly that it cannot reach toxic levels. Even though thimerosal was proven to be safe, it was removed from all vaccines in 2001.
On to the other issues. While the number of vaccines given to children has increased over the years, the number of antigens given to children in these vaccines has actually decreased.
Current research concludes that multiple vaccines do not overwhelm the immune system. Lastly, vaccines do not cause autism. The study published by Andrew Wakefield in 1998 has been rejected and disproven over and over again. But because of fear instilled by anti-vaccination supporters, many parents still use this as an excuse to not vaccinate.
For every argument made against vaccines, there is scientific evidence explaining or disproving it. The cost of the MMR vaccine is less than $75. So far this year, the measles outbreak in Washington has cost that state more than $1 million and is still climbing.
Relaxing vaccine exemptions would increase the number of children who suffer terrible preventable diseases. Allowing SB 454 to pass would have sent us back in time to when now preventable diseases killed hundreds of thousands of people.
I applaud West Virginia’s legislators for not advancing this bill. However, this does not mean it won’t be reintroduced in the future. We must remain vigilant and continue to oppose future legislation that would relax vaccine laws and endanger public health. Don’t let West Virginia take another step back in time.
Alyssa Fairbanks is a pediatric nurse practitioner student and registered nurse living in Morgantown. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.