Heath Column: Childhood illnesses flourish | PostIndependent.com

Heath Column: Childhood illnesses flourish

Phil Mohler, M.D.
Free Press Health Columnist
Little baby get an injection
Getty Images/Hemera | Hemera


* Money spent on vaccinating kids 6 years and younger saves $10 for every dollar spent.

* Unvaccinated children in Colorado are 22-28 times more likely to get whooping cough than those who are vaccinated.

* Personal-belief exemptions have been the reason for over 90 percent of all kindergarten vaccine exemptions in Colorado, 2003-2012.

* Colorado has the second highest rate of personal exemption for childhood vaccines in the U.S.

* States with permissive, easy to obtain personal belief exemptions (in Colorado, a single signature when your child starts kindergarten will keep her immunization free until she graduates from high school) have higher rates of vaccine-preventable diseases.

* Colorado is experiencing an ongoing pertussis (whooping cough) epidemic.

Three weeks ago, I left Grand Junction with the frustrating news that a Colorado legislative bill to booster vaccine education in the childhood vaccine exemption law had been watered to nothingness. Upon arrival in Columbus, Ohio, I learned that the Buckeyes were in the middle of a mumps epidemic. Two-hundred-and eighty-seven mumps cases (as of April 27) documented!

The outbreak began among the students and faculty of Ohio State University, but quickly spread to the community. The majority of the mumps cases were occurring in unimmunized children and young adults. Ohio public health authorities were requiring that all school kids who were not fully immunized (two doses of the vaccine), remain at home for up to 25 days to prevent the spread of the illness.

Recall that mumps is a viral infection that is spread by coughs and sneezes in patients who typically complain of fever, headache and swollen parotid glands (those glands found in front of the ears). At times, girls also experience pain and swelling of the breasts and ovaries and boys, painful enlargement of the testicles.

Why is this happening in the 21st century in the richest country in the world, when there is an extraordinarily safe and effective mumps vaccine?

The answer in Ohio, as in Colorado, is that there are a growing number of parents who opt their children out of receiving standard childhood vaccines.

No vaccine is 100-percent protective, but if you immunize enough kids in any particular school or community or county, you create a “herd immunity,” meaning that the illness (mumps or whooping cough) cannot and will not spread.

So here’s the simple equation:

Colorado’s easy procedure to opt kids out of immunizations; plus

More kids don’t get immunized; plus

Loss of “Herd Immunity;” equals

Outbreaks of totally preventable illness!

My Take: Childhood vaccines are extremely safe and quite effective. Not to immunize kids because they are too young or have true medical conditions or religious beliefs not to vaccinate are appropriate and defensible decisions. The failure to immunize children because of unscientific, misguided ideas (aka Jenny McCarty) is unconscionable. Libertarian views often dominate thinking in western Colorado, but basic public health tenets must prevail. My neighbor does not want my septic tank overflowing into his basement, putting his family at risk for a nasty G.I. illness. In like manner, my neighbor’s failure to immunize his kids puts his children and all the community’s kids, including those too young to vaccinate, at risk.

GJ Free Press health columnist Dr. Mohler has practiced family medicine in Grand Junction for 39 years. He has a particular interest in pharmaceutical education. Phil works part-time for both Primary Care Partners & Rocky Mountain Health Plans. Email pjmohler@bresnan.net.

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