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Editorial: Failure to immunize endangers whole communities

Vaccination should not be optional

First Published Apr 28 2014 05:56 pm • Last Updated Apr 28 2014 05:56 pm

If it never rains, you don’t worry about mending that hole in the roof. If you drive your car for years and years without so much as a fender-bender, you could easily get lax about wearing your seat belt. Or paying your car insurance premium.

If you live in a culture where you don’t know anybody who has ever had the measles or whooping cough, much less anyone who died from those now-rare diseases, it could be hard to understand the necessity of getting your children vaccinated for those and other once-common illnesses.

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In all cases, the neglect of such matters is mere human nature. Neat, plausible and wrong.

The report in Sunday’s Salt Lake Tribune about vaccination rates in Salt Lake County elementary and middle schools was chilling.

More and more parents — educated parents living in middle-class neighborhoods — are not just forgetting to have their children immunized.

Far too many otherwise intelligent and caring parents are actively choosing not to participate in what was once the most successful public health movement in the history of humanity.

This is madness. If public education can’t turn this trend around, and soon, then Utah must change its law so that parents aren’t allowed to opt their children out of immunizations for no reason other than that they just don’t feel like it.

Global vaccination efforts have virtually eliminated such once-widespread scourges as smallpox and polio. Diseases that once ran rampant through American children — measles, mumps, whooping cough — are all but gone.

But they are popping up again, here and there, usually traced to a family, or a neighborhood, where parents have not had their children vaccinated.

The leisure of living in a culture where such illnesses are rare, and where false rumors, carried like a disease by D-list celebrities, that vaccines are harmful are increasingly common, has led us to such a state.

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The plain fact is that unvaccinated children run an unacceptable risk of contracting serious, sometimes fatal, diseases that were on the verge of extinction only a few years ago. Even children who have been vaccinated are at increased risk when they come into contact with those who carry those diseases, as no vaccine is 100 percent effective.

Failing to vaccinate children against preventable diseases is parental malpractice. It endangers those children, and the rest of the community.

Schools and health care providers must redouble their efforts to get that message out. And the law must be more squarely on their side.

Copyright 2014 The Salt Lake Tribune. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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