The internet, we are told, has been instrumental in democratizing the spread of important information. With access to the World Wide Web, anyone can access what they need to know, mostly without filters.
That’s good, except when it isn’t. That is the case when the information being passed along is slanted or, worse yet, has no basis in truth whatsoever. In those cases, the internet can be a barrier to progress and even bring danger to those who have been duped.
There are many examples of this, but the one we are concerned with today is the inexplicable campaign against having children immunized against certain communicable diseases.
Most of those childhood diseases — measles, mumps, whooping cough, chicken pox and more — had been virtually eradicated from the United States before the deluge of misinformation began. Now, the trend toward eradication is being reversed, and those diseases once again are on the verge of becoming major health problems.
There was a time a child could not attend classes without providing proof that all vaccinations had been given. There was a good and simple reason for this: public health. With the fraudulent scare against vaccinations, though, politically expedient steps have been put in place to allow parents to have their children opt out of the common sense program.
A result is that the immunization rate has steadily fallen both statewide and in our area schools. As that continues, the chance for outbreaks becomes larger.
In fact, it isn’t so much a chance as a certainty. The question is just when it will happen. And when it does, it will not be only children at risk but the elderly, who were immunized long ago and may have become susceptible again, the very young, and others with weakened immune systems.
Since 2006, when the state began reporting the data, the exemption rate for kindergartners in Texas has risen from 0.3% in the 2005-06 school year to 2.15% in 2018-19.
In a dozen Longview-area districts, the trend has been the same, with increases in each one pushing the average non-medical exemption rate for the 2018-19 year to just shy of 2.3%.
Some private schools have seen much sharper increases. At Trinity School of Texas, the 2018-19 rate was 8.49%; at Christian Heritage School it was 6.67%.
Thus, there are now hundreds of children in Gregg County who have not been immunized. It would not be surprising for any of them to regularly interact with others, whether sitting next to them at a movie, sharing playground equipment, attending church or dining out.
This is a serious concern. According to the federal Centers for Disease Control, “measles is so contagious that if one person has it, up to 90 percent of the people close to that person who are not immune will also become infected.”
And why are parents opting out of vaccinations? Almost always the reasons have zero basis in fact. Vaccines do not cause autism, or cancer, or brain damage, or anything beyond complications if one is allergic. That happens to a small number of children and does not present a major medical emergency.
The data prove too many parents are following false claims and putting their own children and public health at risk. We suggest they get better information. A pediatrician or family doctor is probably the best source for reliable advice.
Opt-out rates should not be allowed to go any higher. If that happens, we will return to those days when major outbreaks could virtually shut down schools. Critical thinking should help all of us realize the horror stories are almost certainly bunkum.
The Legislature must reengage on this subject and shut the door on non-medical exemptions. In the meantime, parents, get your child vaccinated. They will be healthier for it, and so will the rest of us.