Editor’s Note: The following guest column was written by Frank Kruppa, public health director for the Tompkins County Health Department. 

It follows an Ithaca Voice story, “Despite efforts, some Ithaca schools have dangerously low vaccination rates.”

Submit guest columns to The Voice at jstein@ithacavoice.com.

— Jeff Stein

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Written by Frank Kruppa:

The current measles outbreak that began in California and has spread to several other states highlights a problem that continues to grow in the United States – parents choosing not to vaccinate their children. Measles was once a common disease in this country. Before the vaccination program started in 1963, the CDC estimates that about 3 to 4 million people got measles each year in the United States. Of those, 400 to 500 died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 4,000 developed encephalitis (brain swelling) from measles.

Vaccine preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella and pertussis (whooping cough) are on the rise because some parents choose not to vaccinate their children.  Their decision threatens the health of their child and the health of the community. When 95% of the population is vaccinated for measles for example, herd immunity is created that effectively prevents the spread of disease in the community and protects those few that cannot be vaccinated. These include those who cannot receive the vaccine for medical reasons and infants too young to receive the vaccine.  The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all children get two doses of Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccine, starting with the first dose at 12 through 15 months of age, and the second dose at 4 through 6 years of age.  Until the vaccine series is complete those children are unprotected and rely on herd immunity.

Measles is very contagious and can live for up to two hours on surfaces and in the air.  According to the CDC, 90 percent of unvaccinated people in close proximity to an affected person will become infected with measles.  Many of us are not old enough to remember when children regularly contracted these vaccine preventable diseases.  Due to the success of the vaccine, measles was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000 by the CDC.  However, every year measles are brought into the United States by unvaccinated travelers from countries where the disease still occurs or where outbreaks are occurring including Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Pacific.  Even if you and your family don’t travel, you can come in contact with travelers anywhere in the community from the supermarket to a social gathering.

We often hear parents deciding to not vaccinate out of fear the vaccine might harm their child.  Let’s be clear.  There is no scientific evidence that vaccines harm children.  To the contrary, vaccines have been proven to eliminate diseases and are considered one of the greatest public health achievements of the last century. There is no vaccine controversy.  Vaccines save lives.  A decision to not vaccinate puts the most vulnerable within our community at unnecessary risk.

— Frank Kruppa

Public Health Director

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Jeff Stein

Jeff Stein is the founder and former editor of the Ithaca Voice.