LEGISLATION that puts Virginia in line with federal guidelines on the childhood administration of routine vaccines is making its way through the General Assembly. We would like to say that there is partisan accord on such disease-preventing legislation, but we cannot.
The bill (HB 1090) introduced by Del. Patrick A. Hope, an Arlington Democrat, would simply put Virginia in line with federal guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on immunization requirements for public school attendance. The targeted diseases, among several others, include measles, mumps, rubella, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis and chicken pox.
The legislation is supported by the Virginia Academy of Family Physicians, the Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Medical Society of Virginia, and virtually every other reputable, professional medical organization in the state.
Virginia’s guidelines have not been updated in a dozen years, and over that time outbreaks of such controlled diseases as measles have popped up in states with clusters of unvaccinated children. At least two measles cases were reported in Virginia last year.
Vaccine guidelines were scientifically established not only to protect the individual child receiving them, but more importantly, to protect all the other children in a public school setting who could be exposed to a disease by an unvaccinated child.
The legislation has already been approved by the House by a 53–44 vote—that’s 53 Democrats in favor; 44 Republicans against—with three delegates not voting.
The Senate Education and Health Committee approved the measure on a 9–6 party-line vote, except for one senator from each party voting the other way.
Like the existing Virginia legislation, HB 1090 provides for religious and medical exemptions for parents wary of the vaccines. It also provides for assistance for families who don’t have private health insurance and can’t afford the immunizations. Children in families with private insurance generally receive the full CDC regimen.
As the anti-vaccination movement has filled the internet with misinformation and scare tactics citing overblown safety concerns, the percentage of kindergarten students granted religious exemptions nearly doubled from 2007 to 2018, but only from 0.66 percent to 1.22 percent, according to the Virginia Immunization Survey.
But that doesn’t stop 100 percent of voting Republican delegates from opposing the measure because they think Virginia is somehow better equipped to set such guidelines than the CDC. Or maybe they are cowering to the vociferous anti-vaccination crowd in a committee hearing room that chooses to reject society’s desire to provide for the greater good.
Perhaps that explains this quote, reported in a Virginia Mercury story, by Caroline County Republican Del. Bobby Orrock: “The reason we have moved very slowly is the reason there are so many people here in this room. There is not universal acceptance of these vaccines. … Things we thought were good at one point, experience proves they’re not always in the best interest.”
That is, at best, an uninformed statement, if only because experience—and scientific data—does indeed prove otherwise. Immunizations have saved countless lives and prevented countless illnesses. Between 1912 and 1922, the first decade that identified measles cases were tracked in the United States, an average of 6,000 measles-related deaths were reported per year, according to the CDC.
In 2000, measles was declared eliminated in the United States, meaning that there were periods of zero reported cases. In 2019, however, 1,282 cases were reported—20 times the number reported in 2010, though the number has fluctuated over that time.
Measles is rarely fatal these days, but the CDC attributes the increase in cases to groups of people who reject immunization—often adherents to the misguided anti-vaxxer movement—as one infected individual then spreads the disease throughout the group.
Americans today are a very transient people. Virginia, with just over half of its citizens born elsewhere, is a good example of that, thanks to high numbers of military members and government workers. It only makes sense that states fall in line with the CDC guidelines so we are all on the same page when new outbreaks of any disease are reported.
This legislation needs to go to Gov. Ralph Northam for his signature.