Vaccines keep kids healthy

With the children heading back to school, the Health Ministry has called on parents to vaccinate their children.

For years, this went without saying – but it seems that is no longer the case. Health Minister Ya’acov Litzman’s office confirmed to The Jerusalem Post that he is considering conditioning children’s registration to preschools and elementary schools for the 2019-2020 school year on being up to date with their vaccines, unless there is a medical reason for them not to be.

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This may seem like undue intervention into parenting, but vaccinating isn’t like other parenting choices. It not only impacts the family that is making the decision; it has an effect on everyone the children encounter.

The more people choose not to vaccinate their children, the less effective “herd immunity” becomes – and the more likely preventable diseases are to spread, including to people who have weak immune systems or cannot be vaccinated because of specific health issues. Imagine a child recovering from cancer returning to school and catching the measles, because a classmate’s parents didn’t vaccinate their child.

No study has yet to show a causal tie between vaccines and autism, although there is considerable anecdotal testimony from parents who have noticed changes in their children immediately after receiving their vaccinations. Their concerns should not be dismissed as paranoid fairy tales; on the other hand, their actions, or inactions, should not be allowed to endanger other children.

Granted, there have not been any major studies conducted in the last 20 years, when the number of vaccines that infants and toddlers are subject to has increased significantly, but there are past scientific studies of hundreds of thousands of children that showed no link between autism and vaccines. One of those studies, conducted in Denmark between 1991 and 1998, was of 537,303 children, 82% of whom received the MMR (Measles, Mumps and Rubella) vaccine. The risk of autism in vaccinated children was no higher than that of those who had not been vaccinated.

For those who argue that the vaccine schedule should be spread out because children get too many vaccines at too young an age, note that the study showed there was no connection between either the time of vaccination or the space between vaccinations, and the development of autism.

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Despite the overwhelming scientific evidence in favor of immunization, the anti-vaccine movement seems to have picked up steam in Israel, following a trend in other parts of the world. As a result, measles has been increasing.

The number of reported cases of measles has exploded in Israel, jumping from nine in 2016, to 33 in 2017, to 262 in 2018. In Europe, the numbers jumped from 5,273 in 2016, to 23,927 in 2017, and almost doubling again to 41,000 – with at least 37 deaths – in just the first six months of 2018.

According to the Health Ministry, 90% of the cases in Israel were either people who had not been vaccinated, or who came into with unvaccinated people.

Measles can have lasting effects such as hearing loss, and is fatal for one in 1,000 children who catch it.

The way to not catch the virus is to get the MMR vaccine, which is 97% effective when the recommended two doses are received on time, according to the Health Ministry.

“We can stop this deadly disease,” World Health Organization regional director for Europe Zsuzsanna Jakab said last week. “But we will not succeed unless everyone plays their part: to immunize their children, themselves, their patients, their populations – and also to remind others that vaccination saves lives.”

In his letter announcing that he plans to explore the possibility of requiring vaccinations for registration to schools, Litzman wrote: “The vaccines recommended in Israel today are especially efficient and safe, and prevent sickness, disability and death from infectious diseases.

“Unvaccinated children are not only in danger of [catching] such diseases, but they endanger those in their surroundings because of a violation of ‘herd immunity’ and their ability to be contagious if they are sick,” Litzman added. “The effectiveness of vaccines rises as the rate of vaccination rises.”

For the sake of the entire public, and for the health of our children, we support Litzman’s call to ensure that vaccination rates stay high – by instituting a policy making sure that children are immunized before admission to school.

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