In defense of public health
Elia makes the right call on vaccinations but should now abolish the exemption
Good for State Education Commissioner MaryEllen Elia for reaffirming what doctors and scientists and many average, everyday citizens understand: Children need to be vaccinated before they can come to school.
It is the only way to keep individual students and their peers healthy. When all children receive vaccinations, it fosters “herd immunity,” which states that 83 to 94 percent of a given population needs to be vaccinated to prevent disease from festering and spreading.
Pediatricians in this country are now encountering an outbreak of measles. The Centers for Disease Control show confirmation of individual cases in 15 states, including New York. Measles had been declared eliminated in 2000. It’s coming back as too many parents substitute their beliefs, either false or insufficient, for those of professionals who actually know what they’re talking about.
Understanding the risks of allowing children to go unvaccinated surely must have factored in Elia’s decisionmaking regarding a case from Erie County. A mother here claimed a religious exemption that would allow her to send her two teenage daughters to Orchard Park Central Schools. The woman, Marina Williams, wanted them to attend school without the children having received all required childhood vaccines.
Williams appealed Orchard Park school district officials’ decision to not allow her children to enroll. Elia dismissed Williams’ appeal on the grounds that she failed to show that the district’s decision to reject admission was “arbitrary or capricious.” That was the right decision, but the State Education Department should go further and simply eliminate the exemption. Public health comes first.
The school district late last year rejected Williams’ application, saying that she “failed to demonstrate a sincerely held religious belief.” Williams moved in October to Orchard Park from West Seneca, where the district had allowed her unvaccinated daughters to attend classes. She attempted but failed in February to get a State Supreme Court judge to force the school district to temporarily admit her children while the state considered her appeal.
With all due respect to Williams, it is unfair to expect others to bear the burden of her – or anyone else’s – religious beliefs, no matter how sincerely held. The vaccine is up to 97 percent effective, but that still leaves some children unprotected. In addition, some children cannot get the vaccination because of medical issues.
It isn’t just those with religious beliefs refusing to immunize. These modern times have produced parents – anti-vaxxers, if you will – who, for whatever reason, have decided that they do not want their children to be vaccinated. Some have attached autism to vaccinations, an argument that has been refuted by experts, including those at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Adults who believe their children are better off without vaccinations should consider the long-term health of their loved ones and others, and reconsider. Since many won’t, the State Education Department must act.