Vaccines are necessary and proven to save lives
I choose to believe most of humanity wakes up every day and, in one way or another, asks themselves a fundamental question: What good can I do today? How I can serve my family, my friends and my community?
It is this belief — an exercise in faith — that informs my entire political philosophy. Government should work in helping to ensure justice, heal the sick and protect us all.
These are fundamental beliefs of responsibility. We have a responsibility to each other. It is our responsibility to protect those who cannot protect themselves.
That is why I believe vaccines are so important and why, in 2015, I worked with a Republican House member to introduce legislation that would eliminate Pennsylvania’s philosophical exemption from vaccination requirements for students entering kindergarten and seventh grade. At the time, I was alarmed by a measles outbreak at the happiest place on earth: Disneyland in California.
The reaction to the legislation was mostly acceptance. Most of the people I represent showed support for the legislation. However, a very vocal and particularly nasty group of people went on the attack. I was called a Nazi (my grandparents survived the Holocaust) and I was labeled an “arm rapist.” Conspiracy theorists from across the country called my office in Allentown. I was accused of intentionally wanting to give kids autism, a notion disproven by dozens of studies.
The legislation never received a hearing.
As I type these words, 764 people in America have had measles in 2019 — an increase of 60 since last week. On the day that Rep. Daryl Metcalfe introduced legislation to make it harder for doctors to deliver care we deserve, the first case of measles was reported in Pittsburgh. In March, it was mumps in Philadelphia.
These contagious diseases are real, and they are too close to home. Complications can include diarrhea, vomiting, eye infections, respiratory infections, pneumonia, brain swelling and death.
The science surrounding vaccines is settled. Vaccination works. The vaccine and booster for measles is 97% effective. Before measles vaccination started in 1963, more than 3 million people got measles annually.
Vaccines are necessary because we need to maintain community immunity. For a society to be free of measles, at least 93% of the population needs to be vaccinated to prevent disease from spreading. That is where our responsibility to each other comes in.
Vaccination is not just about you and me — it is about the rest of society. When you get sick with a contagious disease, you are not just risking your own life; you are risking the lives of those around you. Picture this: 3.6% of the population is immunocompromised. They cannot be vaccinated due to medical condition or illness. Further, the measles vaccine is 97% effective. Even with these numbers, a vaccinated person can get sick. However, thanks to community immunity, potential outbreaks are stopped in their tracks.
We live in an era of fake news, but truth is most doctors believe vaccinations are safe and effective. That is why 86% of the scientific community support vaccination requirements and 92% of doctors say measles outbreaks are due to parents avoiding vaccinations.
There will always be those who think that vaccines are a vast conspiracy designed to help pharmaceutical companies get rich at our expense — never mind that vaccines were so costly to drug companies that they nearly stopped making them in the 1980s. There are people who will believe anything.
If you do not believe me, fine. Go ask your doctor. Research scientific journals, not just random websites. Consult authority figures who know what they are talking about and are experts in this area. Their opinion is nearly uniform: Vaccines are safe and have saved millions of lives.
We have made so much progress in the fight against deadly diseases in the past century. My grandparents lived in the world of the iron lung, where polio and other diseases threatened to take away those they loved at a moment’s notice. But the last natural outbreak of smallpox was in 1977, and in 2015 the World Health Organization announced the successful worldwide near eradication of polio. By 2005, worldwide occurrences of measles offered hope of eradication by 2020.
To regain our momentum and end outbreaks in places as medically advanced as the United States, we need to stop legislation seeking to punish doctors for providing care and then approve legislation ending philosophical exemptions for vaccination. Future generations are depending on us.