1949 was not a good year to be a child in Idaho. That year, more than 500 Idaho children contracted polio. It often struck in the summer and especially targeted those under five.
Often, survivors were able to get by being placed inside an iron lung, but were left with shriveled limbs or paralysis.
But six years later, Jonas Salk rolled out the polio vaccine and Idaho saw rates of polio rapidly decline in just a few years in response to vaccination for the disease. We had the last case in Idaho in 1982.
Today, we often overlook the tremendous suffering alleviated by widespread immunization. The Centers for Disease Control estimates that between 1994 and 2014, roughly 732,000 American children were saved from death by vaccines, along with 322 million cases of childhood illnesses were prevented.
Yet, there is a widespread movement both here and Idaho and nationally that challenges the benefits of immunization. Idaho currently allows parents to have their children attend school or a day care facility without the required immunizations. They can do it if there is a medical reason or for another rationale, including opposition to vaccination.
They simply have to fill out a simple form that asks which immunizations their children have not had and notifies them their children may be excluded from attending in the event of a disease outbreak for which their children are not immunized (you can view the form here).
In this year’s Legislature, Idaho Sen. Dan Foreman (R-Moscow) is pushing SB 1227 allowing someone to qualify for the exemption by providing a letter rather than the form.
Foreman is reflecting the views of anti-vaccination activists in Idaho who claim that those who are unvaccinated are less likely to be infected during a disease outbreak than vaccinated children (despite the massive scientific evidence to the contrary).
These same people believe vaccines are dangerous despite enormous evidence to the contrary. Adverse reactions do occur, but they are extremely rare with rates of 1 per hundreds of thousands in most cases. The Department of Health & Human Services says vaccines are some of the safest of all medical products available.
Many opponents (including actress Jennie McCarthy) still claim that autism is linked to vaccinations. Disgraced ex-physician Andrew Wakefield was the genesis of that claim, but his study has been exposed as fraudulent. Donald Trump has also trotted out this idiocy (He has been joined from the left by Robert F. Kennedy Jr.). As the father of two sons with autism, I find these kinds of assertions highly offensive.
These activists are playing with fire.
This year, the Magic Valley has been dealing with an outbreak of the once common whooping cough that is rare of among the vaccinated. This easily preventable (by vaccine) illness kills infants.
Earlier this year, Utah saw 2,000 people potentially exposed to Hepatitis A by a food worker at a 7-Eleven in West Jordan with over 150 cases confirmed. There is a vaccine available to prevent this disease.
Last year, Arkansas saw 2,931 cases of the mumps. Almost all could have been prevented by the appropriate immunization.
Opponents of vaccination think the issue is freedom. It is not. It is really whether Idaho children should be put at risk of illness and death because of their parents, and other parents’ strongly held but inaccurate beliefs.
In Idaho, we allow parents to make such ill-advised choices. But, when their decisions have the potential to hurt and even kill others, there is a point where a line should be drawn.