Vaccination among private school children is on the decline and, as the issue of childhood immunization evolves from a philosophical debate to a public health crisis, the time has come to take action.
According to a report published last week by the Associated Press, children who attend private schools are far less likely to have all of their required vaccinations due to a parental opt-out option.
“Not even the recent re-emergence of whooping cough has halted the downward trajectory of vaccinations among these students,” the report found.
And the trend is pushing an ever-growing number of private schools past the biological tipping point.
To combat the trend, the legislature has passed AB 2109, which would require parents to consult with a healthcare practitioner before opting out of immunizations. It now sits on the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown, who will hopefully sign it into law by the month’s end.
The liberty of citizens to govern their own lives and their families in the manner they choose is a fundamental characteristic of the United States. Yet liberty has always—necessarily—had limits, even when dealing with child-rearing.
For example, modern society bans the sale of items such as tobacco and alcohol to children, regardless of their parents’ opinion on the matter. Children must be educated, whether it be through private, public or home school, or by law. Parents are limited in their legal right to corporally punish their children, and so on.
It is not a controversial idea that the best interest of a child outweighs the desires of of a parent, and parental liberty is clearly not without its limits.
The bill before the governor does not force parents to vaccinate their child, either, but seeks to ensure they have received the necessary information to make such an important decision concerning their child’s health.
Thirty states currently allow no such exemptions for personal beliefs and the already-thin arguments against vaccinating children grow weaker with each passing day.
The growing number of parents in these schools that are opting-out of childhood vaccinations are placing their own children, as well as all other unvaccinated kids, at an increasingly greater risk.
Public health officials advocate a minimum vaccination rate of 90 percent in any given population to maintain “community immunity,” sometimes referred to as, “herd immunity.”
“When a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, most members of the community are protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak,” a National Institute of Health publication states. “Even those who are not eligible for certain vaccines—such as infants, pregnant women, or immunocompromised individuals—get some protection because the spread of contagious disease is contained.”
About 15 percent of private schools surveyed by the AP failed to meet that “critical portion” of 90 percent. Comparatively, 5 percent of public schools didn’t meet the amount.
Alarmingly, the study also found the rate at which private school parents are opting out of childhood vaccinations increased 10 percent since last year, while the opt-out rate seen at public schools remained unchanged.
Keep in mind, the vaccinations being discussed include those that prevent against serious, potentially fatal illnesses such as measles, mumps, hepatitis B and whooping cough.
Some parents shun the shots due to religious beliefs. Others fear, without evidence, that the vaccinations themselves may cause illness. In recent years, a scientifically repudiated notion that vaccines are linked to autism has inexplicably gained popularity.
Some parents argue that getting childhood diseases strengthens children’s immune systems, while some others argue the converse: that the vaccinations themselves could overwhelm a young immune system.
Whatever the reason, the end result of the growing trend of sending children off to school without vaccinations is the same: More children are getting, and will continue to get, sick.
Sometimes very sick. Sometimes fatally sick.
The risk is real and growing. While we have not quite yet reached the point of deadly, widespread epidemics, the current trend seems to be leading in that direction.
Let us hope we never get there.