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Duly Noted

Monday, Sep 10, 2012, 9:01 am

Vaccination and the 1%

By Lindsay Beyerstein

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Parents at tony private schools in California are dragging out their children's vaccination schedules, as is fashionable, and outsourcing whooping cough to the 99%:

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Parents who send their children to private schools in California are much more likely to opt out of immunizations than their public school counterparts, an Associated Press analysis has found, and not even the recent re-emergence of whooping cough has halted the downward trajectory of vaccinations among these students.

The state surveys all schools with at least 10 kindergartners to determine how many have all the recommended immunizations. The AP analyzed that data and found the percentage of children in private schools who forego some or all vaccinations is more than two times greater than in public schools.

More troubling to public health officials is that the number of children entering private schools without all of their shots jumped by 10 percent last year, while the opt-out rate held steady in public schools for the first time since 2004. [AP]

Selfishness is at the root of the anti-vaccination craze. Those who can't be vaccinated for health reasons depend on healthy people to get their shots. If a large percentage of the population is vaccinated, the pathogen can't spread, and the weakest are protected. This phenomenon is called "herd immunity." It's a matter of life and death for newborn babies, cancer patients, and other vulnerable people.

Anti-vaccine guru Dr. Bob Sears instructs his readers not to vaccinate their children, and warns them not to tell the neighbors they're not vaccinating. Sears hopes his readers' kids will benefit from herd immunity while avoiding any side effects that might be associated with vaccines.

Anti-vaxxers aren't the only selfish people here.

Whooping cough and other vaccine-preventable diseases are on the rise not only because of voluntary refusals, but also because public health budgets have been slashed to the bone in the name of austerity and tax cuts.

Lots of parents who want to vaccinate their kids aren't being supported in that choice--and everyone's health is suffering as a result.

I spoke to a nurse practitioner in the Pacific Northwest who sees whooping cough several times a month, up from practically never. He said many working parents who want to vaccinate are struggling to afford vaccines that have become dramatically more expensive. Shots that used to cost a pittance now cost over $100, he said. That's a big expense for a family struggling to make ends meet. There are programs to help the truly indigent, but a lot of working poor and lower middle class families fall through the cracks.

If legislators and taxpayers don't step up to help these parents do the right thing, then we're the selfish ones.

Lindsay Beyerstein is an award-winning investigative journalist and In These Times staff writer who writes the blog Duly Noted. Her stories have appeared in Newsweek, Salon, Slate, The Nation, Ms. Magazine, and other publications. Her photographs have been published in the Wall Street Journal and the New York Times' City Room. She also blogs at The Hillman Blog (http://www.hillmanfoundation.org/hillmanblog), a publication of the Sidney Hillman Foundation, a non-profit that honors journalism in the public interest.

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