Vaccination: Mandatory immunization law should not be relaxed

We are just three months into 2019 and, already, the number of measles cases in the United States has topped the total recorded for last year. It has been nearly 20 years since measles had the impact being seen now. Twenty states have reported the sickness.

West Virginia is not one of them. How, in a state where multiple studies seem to indicate children are more vulnerable to health problems than in most of the rest of the country, is that possible?

State officials say the answer is simple: Mandatory immunization laws for school children get the credit, they say.

Some regions of the country are experiencing genuine outbreaks of the disease — which CAN kill. Of the 555 cases of measles tallied a few days ago, 285 were in New York City. Areas with relatively weak child immunization rules also are having trouble with the disease.

From time to time, it is suggested West Virginia should relax its immunization requirements. Our luck in avoiding measles — just one of the ailments for which students in public schools must be vaccinated against — argues against that.

As we have noted many times in the past, aversion to having children vaccinated stems largely from myths about the dangers of immunization. One frequently quoted “study,” raising concerns about a mercury-based chemical in vaccines, was disproved years ago.

Some children are affected adversely by some vaccines. In such cases, local and state officials should grant exemptions from the immunization requirement.

But states that grant exemptions for other reasons often run into the problem of weakening “herd immunity.” Scientists know that the more people in a given population who are immunized against a disease, the fewer will contract it — even if they have not been vaccinated.

It makes sense: Children whose bodies truly cannot tolerate vaccines are at more risk when they are around other children who, not immunized by the choice of their parents, carry disease germs.

West Virginia has the highest percentage of children immunized against several diseases of any state in the nation. Our boys and girls are benefiting from that now — while youngsters in less strict states are coming down with the measles.

That is something to remember the next time state legislators are asked to weaken the Mountain State’s mandatory immunization law.