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Make schools safe: Requiring vaccines in schools

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The Seattle Public School system has taken a massive leap towards protecting their students from life-threatening illnesses by requiring all students to have received their measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine before returning to school Jan. 8. 

In this historic and much needed new requirement, Washington state’s most extensive school system is making a statement and providing a safer environment for its students. 

Vaccinations have been proven to be active and safe in numerous studies. An often quoted, but thoroughly debunked case series published by a now-discredited physician attempted to link the MMR vaccine and autism. Unfortunately, the misinformation that was spread by this paper has led to decades of dangerous, uninformed decision making by well-intentioned parents and caregivers.

As a physician and a mother, despite knowing all of the science and the safety of vaccines, I am embarrassed to say even I paused for a second before my first child receiving her first vaccine.

I recalled all of the sensationalized false data dispersed online since the 1998 paper was reported. When celebrities tout expertise on the subject and nationally attempt to discredit scientific fact and evidence, these doubts can creep into the most educated and informed and lead to dangerous decisions. 

This misinformation has led to many individuals across the country, not trusting scientists and physicians, and not allowing their children to be vaccinated. Deadly diseases that were almost eradicated worldwide are now making a comeback. Vaccine-preventable illnesses, such as polio, are increasing in numbers. 

In 2019, Washington had two outbreaks of measles and one case unrelated to the explosion. There were 87 cases total, most cases in this state since 1990. 

To be sure, parents can decide what is best for their children. Those who are against mandates such as these share concerns that these requirements infringe on their liberties. 

Unfortunately, the decision to give one’s child vaccinations is not a decision that impacts only that individual child or family. Many individuals who are too young or too old to receive vaccinations, those who live with chronic illnesses, or have a cancer diagnosis, are put at risk if exposed and could die. 

If an otherwise healthy individual has not received a vaccination and contracts the illness, it may or may not affect their health in a significant way. However, it does put those who are unable to receive the vaccine at considerable risk.

As members of society, if the decisions we make directly impact the health of others, then those decisions cannot be left solely to the individuals receiving the vaccine. 

An excellent example often referred to is the seat belt legislation. Initially, required seat belt laws were met with opposition. However, within a few years, these laws were widely accepted. In 2012 alone, seat belts saved an estimated 12,174 lives for those occupants five years and older. 

Individuals against vaccinations misstate that by receiving the vaccine, “toxins” are administered into their systems. If that is the case, the same could be said for antibiotics and other modern medications.

Like almost any medication, vaccination may have a minimal risk or chance of side effects. However, the risk is minimal, and the benefits greatly outweigh any potential possible harm. There are severe infrequent side effects that may occur, but these are the same risks we share with our patients when discussing any modern medical treatment. 

Unfortunately, there are many vaccine myths continually perpetuated, leading to individuals making decisions that they believe are informed, but are based on inaccurate data. 

To addresses, the most dangerous myths, first are that no data has ever shown a link between autism and the MMR vaccine.  

Secondly, these diseases that are the basis of vaccines can be deadly. For instance, measles can cause life-threatening complications such as encephalitis (inflammation of the brain) or other fatal infections. 

Delaying or modifying a vaccine schedule does not have any positive impact, nor does it decrease perceived risk. Vaccines are given on a program that has been rigorously researched and developed to minimize any unnecessary risks to the patient. By delaying the vaccine, individuals are putting themselves at unnecessary risk without gaining any benefit. 

As physicians, our sole purpose is to provide the best care we can to patients, offering the most benefit with the least risk. 

As parents, our purpose is to protect our children, keep them safe and healthy. 

As a physician who is also a mother, I applaud the Seattle public school system and hope other school systems will take note and do the same. 

As a society, we must do all we can to protect children and those who are not able to defend themselves, by continuing to use scientifically validated data to eradicate vaccine-preventable disease. 

Dr. Shikha Jain is a board-certified hematology and oncology physician and the Physician Director of Media Relations for the Rush University Cancer Center. She was named one of Modern Healthcare’s Top 25 Emerging Leaders in 2019. She is a Public Voices Fellow with the OpEd Project and a TedX speaker. 


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