Guest Editorials, Opinion

Risks of increased vaccine hesitancy

One of the lingering — and potentially disastrous — effects of the COVID pandemic is that more parents are reluctant to have their children vaccinated against what used to be common childhood diseases, as well as against flu and the mutating coronavirus strains.

These diseases are nothing to play around with, especially when it comes to young children. Government and public health officials should make it a priority to spread the word that vaccines save lives. Failing to have children vaccinated can have serious consequences for those children and for others around them.

Already, some states have serious outbreaks of measles and chickenpox among children. Thanks to the development and widespread use of vaccines, today’s parents may have had little experience with these diseases.

Before the vaccine was introduced in 1963, measles killed about 500 Americans each year, mostly children. Many others were left with lasting problems including blindness and neurological damage. Before the vaccine became available in 1995, chickenpox led to amputations and to deaths of infants, pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems. Many older adults now are plagued with recurring bouts of painful shingles, a result of having chickenpox as a child.

Nor are these diseases totally eradicated. All it takes is a few unvaccinated people who interact closely, and these lurking pathogens can start to spread; 90% of people who come into contact with someone who has measles will fall ill — if those people don’t have the immunity two doses of MMR vaccine provide.

Why would parents not take advantage of readily available vaccines to protect their children?

The pandemic’s disruption of our lives may be partly to blame. During the worst of the pandemic, many parents were unable to take their children to a doctor’s office. An increase in at-home schooling meant fewer families needed to show proof of vaccination or seek an exemption to school vaccination requirements. Those parents who fell behind on vaccinations should be encouraged to make up for lost time.

More troubling is what appears to be a growing resistance to vaccines. There’s been an anti-vaccine movement for years, fueled in part by misinformation from a false “study” claiming to have found a link between the MMR vaccine (measles, mumps and rubella) and autism. The study was thoroughly discredited and the author disqualified as a physician, but the false information lingers.

Public school mandates requiring vaccinations against such diseases as measles, chicken pox and polio have been one of the most effective weapons against these diseases. Unfortunately, the recent political battles and misleading rhetoric over COVID have fueled mistrust of other vaccines. Polls show that although they are still a minority, increasing numbers of parents believe that they alone should decide whether their children get vaccinated.

We need a robust campaign to help parents understand the importance of getting their children vaccinated against childhood diseases, and to get the word out that vaccines are safe.  Leaders should work with state and local public health officials to spread the word that vaccines work. How tragic for a child to die or be permanently damaged by a disease that could so easily have been prevented.

This editorial first appeared in The Virginian-Pilot. This commentary should be considered another point of view and not necessarily the opinion or editorial policy of The Dominion Post.