To the Editor:
Vaccines are safe and effective in preventing common, highly communicable diseases. They have saved millions of lives and prevented pain and suffering in millions more.
Maine law has long required that all children who attend public school be vaccinated against diphtheria, measles, mumps, whooping cough, German measles, polio, meningitis and tetanus unless there is a verified medical reason why a child cannot be vaccinated. Until a recent change in the law, parents could also opt their children out of vaccinations for “philosophical” reasons. On March 3 you will be asked to once again let parents who simply disagree with vaccines send their unprotected children to school. We are your health care providers, and we strongly urge you to vote “No.”
Vaccines work best if most all members of a community (at least 95 percent) are vaccinated. Vaccinating less of the population will not prevent outbreaks of dangerous diseases. Vaccinating less of the population will expose vulnerable people such as those with cancers, or immune deficiencies or those too young to be vaccinated to significant danger. This is a shared responsibility of all members of a community. No one should have a “right” to send a child unvaccinated by choice to a public school we all support and use. It’s become so backward that children suffering from cancers or other serious medical conditions are sometimes forced to stay out of school because they have to share classrooms with too many unvaccinated classmates who pose a risk to their health.
Vaccines are a gift of human ingenuity, scientific research and testing. The “Big Pharma” signs you see everywhere are an attempt to inflame your passions and distort reality.
Like every medication, there can be side effects — the vast majority mild and temporary — that affect a very small number of vaccination recipients. That is regrettable, but the potential dangers have been grossly overstated, or often, completely fabricated. Such is the case with autism. It doesn’t matter how many times people claim there is a link to vaccinations, there simply is no evidence to support that. A child who is diagnosed with autism who happens to also be vaccinated does not prove there is a link.
Nowhere is the danger more evident than in the tragedy of Samoa, a South Pacific Island. In 2018, there was a terrible medical error in which a measles vaccine powder was mixed with a dangerous liquid. Two children died, not from the vaccine, but from the medical error. But fear spread throughout the community, propelled by anti-vaccination crusaders. Many of the same false arguments against vaccines and rationalizations for the outbreak that are heard here spread across the island. Vaccination rates plummeted to around 34 percent. The result was a tragic outbreak of measles last year. Out of total population of around 200,000, over 5,700 cases have been reported (3 percent of the population), resulting in the death of 83 people, most of them children. Nearby islands with high measles vaccination rates have not suffered a measles outbreak.
Measles was virtually eliminated from the United States until people started pushing conspiracy theories about vaccines. But now it’s back. We also regularly see outbreaks of similar communicable diseases like whooping cough on Mount Desert Island.
The long-term effects of a measles infection are significant. Few children die from measles, but some get very sick and suffer lasting damage. We now understand the measles virus attacks immune memory cells and wipes out a wide range of immunities in 40 to 70 percent of those who have been infected, leaving the individuals vulnerable to a host of infections they would have previously been able to fend off. It takes the body years to redevelop these immunities. Children who have had measles are at a much greater risk of developing pneumonias, chronic ear infections, herpes virus, skin infections and other problems.
Vaccines are not a threat. Disease is. Smallpox was once a human scourge that killed untold millions of humans until a vaccine was discovered. Polio was a horror that killed and maimed millions more. Polio still exists in the wild. The only reason we haven’t seen new cases of it in the United States since 1979, is the vaccine administered to children. Right now, scientists race against the clock to discover a vaccine to stop the coronavirus.
Let’s reject fear, conspiracy, and “alternative facts”. Please vote No on Question One on March 3.
Julian Kuffler, MD, MPH
Andres Abreu MD
Lynne Assaf LCSW
Brenda Beckett PA-C
Brian Caine MD
Nathan Donaldson MD
Peter Goebel MD, DABPMR
Casey Hanson MD
Stephen Koscherak Ph.D., ABPP
Vanessa Little DO
Christy Seed DO