Success Story

Immunization rules should stay in place

Among the few health-related success stories in West Virginia is that of immunizing children against diseases. Let’s not ruin that success.

Wheeling-Ohio County Board of Health members felt it important this week to pass a resolution supporting continuation of current state requirements on immunizing school-age children. They fear that, during the annual regular session of the state Legislature, there will be a move to weaken the standards.

That is not a groundless concern. Some lawmakers have suggested in the past that parents should be given more authority in deciding whether their children will be immunized before going to school.

Nationwide, more and more parents are deciding to skip immunizing their children. The percentage of young children who have never been vaccinated against anything quadrupled since 2001, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

We’re better off here in the Mountain State. In part because of state requirements, almost all parents ensure their children are protected against diseases that once were very common. During the 2017-18 school year, about 98 percent of kindergarten students in public schools had been vaccinated against measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, chicken pox, tetanus and pertussis, according to state statistics.

There may be acceptable reasons — primarily, health conditions that could result in dangerous reactions to some vaccines — for a few parents to reject immunization for their children. State and local officials should never, ever dismiss such concerns if there is evidence they are well-founded.

But more than the health of individual children — though that certainly is important — is involved in the vaccine question.

In order to curb the spread of disease and protect those few children who cannot be vaccinated, a high rate of immunization is required among the general population. That involves something scientists call “herd immunity.” If nearly all children are protected, disease germs can find few hosts and thus, cannot spread.

We live under a variety of laws that limit individual freedom in order to safeguard society. Speed limits are a good example.

Think of childhood immunization requirements in that light. Weakening them can put many children, not just those whose parents decide against vaccination without good reasons.

Legislators should, as the local health board recommends, recognize that and keep current rules in place.