This week, we got news from New York City to remind us here in the Mountain State that leaning on science and a proven strategy will help us avoid the cracks in the sidewalk.
Since last fall, officials in the Big Apple have been fighting a measles outbreak in ultra-Orthodox Jewish communities – knowing all along what we have known all along: The measles vaccine works, it is safe and it is time-tested.
Nevertheless, those city officials tried education, working with rabbis and handing out fliers to give confidence to parents that the vaccination was safe, as it has always been, for their children.
But still, because of state laws, stubborn-minded people, and the anti-vaccination crowd spreading a debunked and false narrative, measles spread in the city. Kids got sick. Lots of kids. There have been 285 confirmed cases since the outbreak began, 21 of which led to hospitalizations, including five admissions to the intensive care unit.
This issue hits close to home because just this past legislative session there was an effort in the form of proposed legislation (House Bill 2847) that sought to provide parents, guardians and individuals with the right to seek an exemption – on religious grounds or personal beliefs – from mandatory vaccines. The bill was brought by Delegates Eric Porterfield, who represents Mercer County and a part of Raleigh County; Tom Fast of Fayette County; and Joe Jeffries of Putnam County. All Republicans, for the record.
Their problem, of course, is that they did not consult science or statistics. And, public health? Apparently, not their worry.
Well, in a state that trails most national norms of healthy outcomes be it heart disease, obesity, cancer rates, diabetes, and drug addiction (just to name a few), one would hope that turning back the clock on health science would be considered a bad idea. And, in fact, it is.
West Virginia’s current immunization laws have kept its residents protected. Since January 1, 465 individual cases of measles have been confirmed in 19 states. West Virginia? No. Not on the list because the Mountain State is pretty righteous when it comes to vaccinations. Exemptions are available – but they come far and few between and are not always permanent.
For good measure.
In 1963, there were more than a half million – 549,000 – reported cases of measles in the United States. As vaccinations were developed, fewer. By 2000, measles was declared eliminated by the Centers for Disease Control.
How so, you might ask, are we having trouble with recent outbreaks if, in fact, the disease had been snuffed out? Well, a number of states weakened their laws – such as what Porterfield, Fast and Jeffries sought to do. When measles began to reveal its ugly head again, it was found that over 60 percent of those infected were not vaccinated, according to the CDC.
The West Virginia bill, thankfully, died. But we feel like we need to remind one and all to keep an eye on such legislation and online propaganda. We would not be surprised to see similar legislation proposed again during next year’s legislative session – which, of course, would be a distraction from attending to the serious business of running the state and moving the general welfare to the forefront.
We can’t afford to keep tripping ourselves up.