There was an extremely troubling article in today’s New Jersey Trenton Times that indicated that a New Jersey’s childhood vaccination rates ranked 42nd in 2009—45th in 2008—in the nation. The ranking were based on annual vaccination statistic compiled by the Centers for Disease Control in Atlanta, GA.
The lead-in paragraph to the article elegantly captured the irony of the dubious statistic:
“One of the most affluent (and most populous states) states in the country, home to more than a few giants in the pharmaceutical industry also has one of the lowest rates of immunizing babies and toddlers in the nation.”
New Jersey’s vaccination rates among infants and toddlers for childhood diseases— mumps, measles, diphtheria, Pertussis (whooping cough), hepatitis B and rubella—was roughly 64 percent in 2009. This was significantly lower than the national average of 71 percent and the lowest in the Northeast. For example, in Pennsylvania and New York, two of the states bordering New Jersey, the vaccination rates in 2009 were 72 and 71 present respectively.
The reasons given for the low rate are plausible but, in most cases, incomprehensible from an infectious diseases and public health perspectives. It has been postulated that low-income and immigrant communities lack health insurance and access to medical information about mandatory childhood vaccination regimens. While it is facile to blame low income and immigrant populations for New Jersey'sÂ egregiously low vaccination rate, the problem may actually lie with more affluent and educated NJ citizens who have medical insurance and understand the public health implications of mandatory childhood immunizations.Â
According to the article, parents and even some health care professionals are backing away from mandatory vaccination because they “don’t like seeing kids cry” after sometimes receiving up to four vaccinations during a single office visit!Â Say what?????Â I accompanied my three children for most of their childhood immunizations, and while some tears may have been shed, they recovered quickly and are now protected against a variety of potentially life-threatening diseases. Â Apparently, some parents and health care professionals are willing to jeopardize the public health of a nation because the “shots hurt.” To that I say; get over it—like it or not, life can be painful and no matter how hard you may try you cannot shield your kids from it!
The fallacious and recently publicly discredited link between childhood vaccination and autism, coupled with the growing public distrust of the pharmaceutical companies that manufacture the vaccines may be more plausible explanations for New Jersey’s declining immunization rates in NJ. This suggests that vaccine manufacturers and public health officials ought to work closely together to be educate the American public about the benefits and potential risks associated with childhood vaccination.
Finally, as some of you may know, many states like New Jersey have religious exemptions that allow children to skip mandatory childhood immunizations. Interestingly and troublingly these children are allowed to attend public schools despite the fact that they haven’t been vaccinated. Again, I say what??? Increasingly, these unvaccinated students have been implicated as the reservoirs for the pertussis outbreaks that are currently ravaging school aged children and older adults throughout the US. It is my belief that children who fail to receive the appropriate immunizations because of religious reason should not be allowed to attend public school. This is because, unlike many of the low income and immigrant families who may be unaware or cannot afford to immunize their children because they lack health insurance, many of the folks claiming religious exemptions have health insurance and are living above the poverty level. Consequently, if these parents choose to not immunize their children (and fail to meet mandated public health requirements for entry into public schools), then they ought to be financially responsible for their child’s education.
Paradoxically, the plummeting vaccination rates in New Jersey and elsewhere are being driven by a small but extremely vocal segment of the American public. Unfortunately, this anti-vaccine sentiment in America is unlikely to abate until an increasing number of children begin to die from easily preventable childhood diseases. As far as I am concerned, the benefits of childhood vaccines far outweigh their risks and help to maintain the public health of all Americans.
Until next time...
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