To a casual observer, the numbers associated with the rise of local nonmedical vaccination exemptions probably will not prompt any sort of startled double-take.
Roughly 3% of kindergartners have “personal belief” exemptions in Grand Forks County. That’s up from 1.35% in 2016. In Polk County, it’s roughly 2% of kindergartners.
Again, those aren’t eye-popping numbers.
The trouble, however, is that they exist at all. We believe most exemptions are based on faulty evidence and also that unvaccinated children are a potential threat to other children who have been vaccinated against infectious diseases.
According to a story in today’s Herald, the numbers have shown an increase in recent years, despite efforts by the medical community to reassure parents that vaccinations for diseases – tuberculosis and measles, for instance – are for the good of the child as well as for others.
Earlier this year, social media sites such as Youtube and Facebook took steps to bury misinformation and conspiracy theories about vaccinations. That was in the midst of a rise in measles cases nationwide.
There were 303 measles cases in the U.S. in March alone, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. That number climbed to 341 in April. From Jan. 1 to Sept. 5, there were 1,241 confirmed cases in 31 states. The CDC notes that it is the greatest number of measles cases in the United States since 1992.
According to the CDC, the majority of measles cases this year are among people who were not vaccinated against the disease.
There were just 55 cases in the United States in 2012. Although the number climbed to 667 in 2014, it fell to 86 in 2016.
Two decades ago, measles was considered a conquered foe. Yet this year, there already are at least 1,241 confirmed cases.
It’s good, then, that Youtube and Facebook have been working to make it harder to find anti-vaccination propaganda.
Meanwhile, we reiterate what we have said in the past: We choose to believe the experts, and therefore believe vaccinations to be safe for a child and important in the ongoing battle against infectious diseases that have sprung back to life.
One of the experts quoted in today’s Herald story is Dr. Paul Carson, from North Dakota State University’s Public Health Department. He said only one or two people in a million experience severe reactions to vaccines; he also said not vaccinating children can have dire consequences.
And without “herd immunity” – meaning almost 100% vaccination rates among groups – other children, even those who have been vaccinated, are at a higher risk when around unvaccinated peers.
To improve vaccination rates, the state should tighten the exemption process. In California, for instance, state lawmakers this year worked to impose new restrictions on certain exemptions.
If that’s what it takes to stamp out the next measles or tuberculosis outbreak, so be it. North Dakota’s Legislature should similarly consider its options during future sessions.