Guest Essays, Letters to the Editor, Opinion

Guest essay: As a Rotarian and health care professional, I support vaccination

by Sarah Woodrum

As a public health professional, a Rotarian and a mom, I oppose House Bill 5105. Rotary International has been on the front line in the fight against polio since the 1970s and was a key contributor to the immunization efforts in response to the COVID-19 global pandemic.

The West Virginia Legislature’s House Bill 5105 would provide a religious exemption for school-aged immunization requirements. The legislation passed the House 57-41. It now goes to the Senate for consideration.

This vote is very close in the senate right now and we need citizens of the state of West Virginia to understand the facts. Here are a few I stand behind:

1. West Virginia is a national leader with one of the highest school-age immunization rates in the country because of strong school policies.

2. High rates of routine childhood immunizations are what help keep away diseases like measles and polio, which can seriously harm or even kill children (and adults).

3. Even small decreases in childhood immunizations can cause devastating outbreaks in communities.

4. Polio, diphtheria and other vaccine-preventable diseases are now seldom seen in the U.S. because of immunizations. If immunization rates decrease even a little, these vaccine-preventable diseases could become common again.

5. A single child’s immunization status affects their entire community, especially other children and adults who are at highest risk for vaccine-preventable diseases.

6. Vulnerable people (newborns, pregnant, elderly, weakened immune systems) can be too young or not eligible for certain immunizations. They rely on community immunity: getting some protection from others being immunized.

7. Routine childhood immunizations protect our future. Immunizations protect not only our kids but also our current population, future grandchildren and their grandchildren.

There are several senators who are Rotarians that seem to be “on the fence” with this bill. Fighting disease, saving mothers and children and supporting education are three of Rotary’s seven Areas of Focus, all of which have direct connections to this legislation. I hope the Rotarian senators follow the science when they ask themselves Rotary’s “4-Way Test of the things we think, say or do”:

  • Is it the truth?
  • Is it fair to all concerned?
  • Will it build good will and better friendships?
  • Will it be beneficial to all concerned?

As a Rotarian who follows the science, I strongly support current West Virginia law, which protects children and families from harmful and preventable diseases, like measles.  For the benefit of all West Virginians, please oppose HB 5105.

Sarah Woodrum is the senior associate dean for Administration at the WVU School of Public Health.