Reporting on the latest news about vaccinations is frustrating. For every step forward we take a step back.
1) First, the good: vaccination rate for measles in the UK has risen to its highest level in 13 years according to the UK Health Protection Agency. The rate — 90% among two-year-olds — is pretty good. I’ll note that this is for the first of two vaccinations needed; for the second dose the uptake is lower, 85%.
One bit of bad news about this is the reason behind the rate increase is thought to be due to a series of measles outbreaks in Europe. It’s an irony of life that vaccines are a victim of their own success: inoculations have been so successful in eliminating some diseases that people take for granted the diseases are gone. But they’re not gone, they’re waiting. When vaccination rates drop low enough, we see more measles. And pertussis. And the flu, and polio.
And when this happens, people get sick, and some die. A teenager in the UK recently died of measles. He had a compromised immune system, which means he relied on us, the rest of the population, to keep up herd immunity.
We failed him.
2) In Massachusetts, it is a requirement by law that children be vaccinated to enter public school. The only exceptions are due to health reasons (for example, an allergy to ingredients of vaccines) or for religious reasons. I disagree with religious exemptions when it comes to medicine — as I’ve said here and here and here— but the Massachusetts legislature is about to consider a bill that will make things much worse. The bill, if passed, will amend the previously existing law. In its entirety, the bill says:
Notwithstanding the provisions of this section a child shall, upon written request of a parent to the school, be admitted to school.
What this means is that if a parent has decided for whatever reason not to vaccinate their child, all they have to do is write a letter and the kid must be allowed to attend school. I expect the reasoning behind this bill is to allow parents more freedom, but what it will actually do is greatly increase the risk of other children at Massachusetts schools for contracting serious and potentially life-threatening diseases.
The sponsor, John Keenan (D-Salem), appears to be a public safety-conscious man, having sponsored many bills to increase public safety. Going over his record I find myself agreeing with many of his policies. But this one strikes me as a bad idea.
Harpocrates Speaks has much more on this. If you live in Massachusetts, I suggest you read his article and contact your local representative about this issue.
Tip o’ the syringe to J Thomas and Todd W.