Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Avoiding immunizations on religious grounds is risky: Bill Moyers

The movie "Contagion" has veteran journalist and commentator Bill Moyers thinking about how fast a deadly disease outbreak can spread, something that can be further propagated by children whose parents have declined to get them immunized on religious grounds.

All states require children to receive some vaccinations, but almost all, including Kentucky, grant religious exemptions. "Now seven states are considering legislation to make it even easier for mothers and fathers to spare their children from vaccinations, especially on religious grounds," Moyers writes.

In some places, that is affecting vaccination rates. In Oregon, the number of children in kindergarten with religious exemptions is up from 3.7 percent to 5.6 percent in the past four years. When the number of people who are not vaccinated increases, that can affect the whole population, since "a certain number of any population group needs to have been vaccinated to maintain the ability of the whole population — 'the herd' — to resist the spread of a disease," Moyers explains. In a class of 25 students, it just takes five who are unvaccinated "for the herd immunity to break down," he writes.

Recently, several outbreaks have been linked to children who have not received their vaccinations. Reuters reported 13 cases of measles in central Indiana, including two whop attended the Super Bowl in Indianapolis. "Patriot and Giants fans back East have been alerted," writes the New York-based Moyers. "So far, no news is good news."

Moyers calls the vaccination gaps "serious business," and reminds readers about serious disease outbreaks of the past, including measles, flu, small pox, polio, and whooping cough. While it's easy to be unconcerned, he says "our human herd moves on a conveyor belt of constant mobility, so that a virus can travel as swiftly as a voice from one cell phone to another. When and if a contagion strikes, we can't count on divine intervention to spare us. That's when you want a darn good scientist in a research lab." (Read more)

"The comments from vaccination skeptics on Bill's column show there are science-deniers on the left just as there are on the right," said Al Cross, director of the Institute for Rural Journalism and Community Issues.

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