Views from Kansas: Don’t delay vaccinations

Editor’s Note: Views from Kansas is a regular feature that highlights editorials and other viewpoints from across the state.

Kansas’ plan to add meningitis and hepatitis A to the list of required vaccinations for school-age children was met last week with passionate objection from a group of citizens concerned about mandatory immunizations.

But with measles outbreaks occurring across the country, there should be no doubt about the need to expand the state’s list of required vaccines that includes measles, whooping cough, mumps and chickenpox.

About 1,020 cases of measles have been reported in the United States this year through June 6, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than half of those infected were not vaccinated against the highly contagious and potentially life-threatening disease.

Kansas health officials correctly argue that the time to act is now — before cases of other contagious diseases begin to multiply.

“Part of public health is not waiting on something that is preventable,” said pediatrician Gretchen Homan, chair of the Immunize Kansas Coalition.

Meningitis is a serious disease that can lead to seizures, coma and even death. Hepatitis A is a liver disease that causes fever, abdominal pain, vomiting, fatigue and other symptoms.

While both of these illnesses are dangerous, they are preventable.

The CDC estimates that more than one-fourth of Kansas teens between 13 and 17 years old are not vaccinated against meningitis, ranking the state near the bottom in the country for teen vaccinations.

Tasha Haas, a writing instructor at Kansas City Kansas Community College, spoke against the requirement at a hearing in Topeka last week.

“Vaccine science is tobacco science,” Haas told The Wichita Eagle.

But science is not on Haas’ side. Vaccines are safe and effective. The CDC and other leading health authorities are unequivocal in recommending that children be vaccinated. But increasingly, experts are doing battle against misinformation.

Opponents of expanding immunization requirements say families should have absolute freedom to make their own health care decisions. But their freedom should not come at the expense of public health.

“We listen to citizens and take into account their concerns, and then we weigh the evidence,” said Kristi Pankratz, director of communications for the Kansas Department of Health and Environment. “We establish policies that balance health risk, benefit, scientific and clinical evidence, and hope that our citizens’ commitment to their loved ones and others will be enough to choose to be vaccinated.”

The proposal, which would maintain exemptions for medical and religious reasons, would bring Kansas in line with the recommendations of the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices.

The new rules could go into effect by the start of the school year, officials say. For the sake of public health, Kansas should not delay.

— Originally published in The Kansas City Star

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