OPINION: On vaccine safety, 'the science is settled'
The Courier - 5/5/2019
May 05-- May 5--A Louisiana lawmaker's rant espousing the long-debunked myth that vaccines cause autism is sad but not surprising. Politicians say stupid things all the time, especially when they know plenty of constituents and potential voters are ready to buy in to their falsehoods and conspiracy theories.
It also was not surprising that some of the believers in what Sen. John Milkovich, a Shreveport Democrat, had to say on the Senate floor Monday showed up on The Courier and Daily Comet's Facebook pages after we posted a link to the story there.
"Houmatoday attempting to control the narrative just like the rest of the dishonest mainstream media," one representative post reads. "It couldn't be more obvious who funds you. This senator didn't state anything untrue, but the CDC sure does. ... The CDC IS NOT an independent agency who serves the people. Basically, the media, big PHARMA, CDC are all pushing this propaganda to try implement mandatory vaccinations."
I guess, as an alleged member of the mainstream media -- whatever you believe that is -- I never got the memo on this one. We ran the news story because it was, simply, newsworthy. But since this is my opinion column, I will express my belief that however well-intentioned vaccine opponents may be, science has proven beyond a reasonable doubt that they are wrong.
"Vaccines are safe, they're incredibly well-studied," Dr. Joe Kanter, assistant state health officer with the Louisiana Department of Health, told The Advocate in last week's story, adding that officials are trying to counter the persistent myths with "outreach and education."
United Kingdom Health Secretary Matt Hancock put it more bluntly in an interview Saturday in The Times of London. He called anti-vaccination activists "morally reprehensible" and "deeply irresponsible," adding that they have "blood on their hands" for encouraging people to abstain from shots that prevent deadly and debilitating illnesses.
"If you don't vaccinate your child, it's not only your child that is at risk. It's also other children, including other children who, for medical reasons, can't be vaccinated," Hancock is quoted as saying. "Vaccination is good for you, good for your child and good for your neighbor and your community."
Anti-vaccination advocates are "campaigning against science," he said, adding that "the science is settled."
One of the problems that concerns health officials like Hancock is the rise in both the U.K. and the U.S. of measles, a deadly disease vaccines are credited with eradicating from both countries and many others. Last month, UNICEF issued a report that shows measles killed 110 million people globally in 2018, up 22 percent from the year before. The organization attributes the increase, in part, to a rise in the number of children who have not been vaccinated. That includes 2.5 million in the U.S., and 169 worldwide, who failed to get measles shots between 2010 and 2017.
It has not shown up in Louisiana, but so far this year, 704 cases have been confirmed in 22 states, including neighboring Texas, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "This is the greatest number of cases reported in the U.S. since 1994 and since measles was declared eliminated in 2000," the agency says.
The measles vaccine, like most others, protects a community through something scientists refer to as "herd immunity." At least 92 percent of a community's residents need to vaccinated against measles for it to work effectively, the CDC says. Each person who skips the shot raises the chances others will get the highly contagious disease.
I'm not sure whether the outreach and education Louisiana's health official mentioned will vanquish the myths that persuade parents not to vaccinate their children. I am certain, however, that the health -- and potentially the lives -- of those children and many others depend on it.
-- Executive Editor Keith Magill can be reached at 857-2201 or firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @CourierEditor.
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