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Measles was declared eradicated from the United States in 2000. Now we hear daily of families afraid to leave home with their newborns for fear of contracting the disease.
Such outbreaks are a blunt reminder of how vulnerable we are in Colorado. For the 2017-18 school year, Colorado ranked last when it comes to vaccination rates for kindergarten-age children, with a coverage rate of only 88.7 percent for two doses of MMR. We need 95 percent coverage to prevent a measles outbreak. While the difference may seem small, it’s the difference between sickness and health for infants, those who have compromised immune systems and pregnant women.
Vaccines are one of the greatest successes of our time – reducing illness, medical costs and emotional heartbreak for countless families. Vaccines have eradicated smallpox, nearly eliminated polio, and reduced disability and suffering from infections caused by measles, diphtheria and whooping cough. Yet, vaccines are victims of their own success.
In some places, we are seeing a rise in “vaccine hesitancy.” That is, an increase in the number of families whose children do not receive immunizations according to the schedule recommended by scientific research. This is not surprising, given that most of us have never had to witness the devastating consequences of diseases such as measles and mumps. But the impact of these illnesses can be life-changing. For example, mumps can cause infertility in boys; rubella can cause birth defects; and 1 in 4 people with measles will require hospitalization. In 2017 in Colorado, 9,424 children were taken to the hospital because they were ill from a disease that could have been prevented by vaccination.
Some parents have concerns about vaccines because they’re trying to do the best for their child and are, rightfully, being cautious about decisions that will affect them. This is every parent’s job, after all. The truth is, vaccination saves lives — about 33,000 each year in the United States alone. Some of the best minds in science have and continue to work on vaccines to make them safe and effective – for the community, and for their own children.
However, for immunizations to protect each of us, all of us who can get fully vaccinated, must. Unfortunately, right now the process to claim a “non-medical” exemption in Colorado is far easier than vaccinating a child.
House Bill 1312 would change that by formalizing the state’s exemption process while preserving parental choice. Under HB 1312, parents claiming a non-medical exemption would take a form, in person, to a local public health agency the first time an exemption is claimed. These improvements not only make it more fair and equitable for all parents making decisions about vaccinations, but research shows having a more formal process will also help improve our vaccination rates.
Diseases quickly become outbreaks when we don’t work together. High rates of vaccination are needed to keep our families, friends, neighbors, and communities healthy and safe. We are privileged to have access to vaccinations - an opportunity that many others do not. As a part of this community, we have a responsibility to each other. We’ve eradicated disease before; let’s take steps to do it again.