School is starting, which means new students are unhappily trooping to their pediatricians to get the few vaccines required by state law. These routine inoculations protect young children (and the community at large) against former public health nuisances and potentially fatal diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, measles, polio and meningitis.
Oh right, we forgot about that fun new trend that involves denying children this essential component of preventive healthcare.
Health officials have expressed worries that a record number of parents are claiming non-medical exemptions from their kids' required vaccinations. Every state requires schoolchildren to be vaccinated against the above preventable diseases and more; however, every state except Mississippi and West Virginia allows for religious exemptions, and 17 states allow for "personal belief" or philosophical exemptions.
In California, twice as many parents opted out of vaccinating their children as did seven years ago, leading to an outbreak of measles in the state. In fact, the incidence of measles is at a 20-year high this year throughout the country.
The most appalling detail of the anti-vaxx movement is that the majority of its proponents are privileged, upper-class parents. According to an L.A. Times analysis, the growth in personal-belief exemptions was especially common in private schools. "In Los Angeles County," wrote reporters Paloma Esquivel and Sandra Poindexter, "the rise in personal belief exemptions is the most prominent in wealthy coastal and mountain communities, The Times analysis shows. The more than 150 schools with exemption rates of 8 percent or higher for at least one vaccine were located in census tracts where the incomes averaged $94,500 -- nearly 60 percent higher than the county median."
Every year, vaccines save 6 million to 9 million lives globally, while in the United States, the implementation of required vaccinations has decreased most vaccine-preventable childhood diseases by 95 percent, while essentially eliminating outbreaks of once devastating diseases. According to the Center for American Progress, vaccines are so important to public health at large because they establish "herd immunity," meaning that when a high-enough percentage (generally 80 to 95 percent) of a population is immunized against a certain disease, the entire population is protected because the disease is unlikely to spread. This practice is especially important for those who cannot get vaccinated because they are too young or too old, or because they have an immunological condition that makes vaccination unsafe.
By denying your children vaccines, you not only endanger them, but also an especially vulnerable portion of the community. The (nonpartisan, science-based, trustworthy) Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urges anti-vaxx parents to reconsider their bizarrely uninformed stance: "School-age children, from preschoolers, to middle schoolers, to college students, need vaccines. Making sure that children of all ages receive all their vaccinations on time is one of the most important things you can do as a parent to ensure your children's long-term health -- as well as the health of friends, classmates, and others in your community."