EDITORIAL: Vaccines continue to save lives

York Dispatch editorilal board

Lincoln Charter School was closed Friday and Monday, March 8 and 11. 

Those weren't planned days off, and they weren't snow days. They were sick days for the whole school.

After more than 70 students and staff members missed school for several days with influenza and intestinal viruses, the school decided to just keep everyone away from each other for four days in the hope of breaking the cycle. They also encouraged parents to keep their kids home if they're sick.

That's smart. Stopping the spread of viruses and communicable diseases, especially among children, is essential in our tightly packed society.

In this file photo, Jonathan Zuniga, 5, of York City, is held by his mother Fabiola Mondragon, right, while being administered the hepatitis A vaccine by Debbie Stoops, R.N., at York City Health Bureau in York City, Monday, April 11, 2016. Dawn J. Sagert photo

More:Flu outbreak closes Lincoln Charter for two days

More:Teen tells Senate why he defied his mom to get vaccinated

More:47 percent protection makes this year’s flu vaccine a winner

That's why vaccines are so important. And that's why the antivaxxer movement is so dangerous.

The fact that a growing number of parents are deciding not to vaccinate their children against previously common childhood diseases has to give us pause.

Before the measles vaccine became available in 1963, an estimated 3 million to 4 million people in the United States contracted the disease each year, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Nearly every child had the measles before the age of 15, and 48,000 people were hospitalized because of it. Each year, 1,000 measles patients suffered encephalitis (swelling of the brain), and 400 to 500 people died from it.

In the years before a vaccine, if Lincoln students had had the measles instead of the flu, every family with a child in the school and every staff member and their families would have been under quarantine, forbidden from leaving their homes until 21 days after the last person in the home broke out in the characteristic rash.

FILE - In this Wednesday, Feb. 7, 2018 file photo, a nurse prepares a flu shot from a vaccine vial at the Salvation Army in Atlanta. Preliminary figures released Thursday, Feb. 14, 2019 suggest this winter’s vaccine is 47 percent effective overall in preventing flu illness severe enough to send a patient to the doctor's office - an improvement from the previous year. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

Measles was declared eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, but in recent years outbreaks, caused by infected people coming into the country and having contact with people who have not been vaccinated, have become more and more common.

The anti-vaxxer movement started taking hold in 2007, when celebrities began spreading disproven theories linking vaccines to autism. For several years before that, there were fewer than 100 cases of measles yearly in the country. Since then, the number of U.S. cases peaked at 667 in 2014, according to the CDC. A preliminary count from 2018 has 372 cases.

Already, 2019 has seen more than 200 cases in 11 states, including one outbreak in the Pacific Northwest that made 70 people sick, according to The Associated Press.

More than 90 percent of the population is vaccinated, but there are pockets around the country where parents aren't getting their children their proper shots, and that is creating a hazard for those children as well as for others around them who are too young to receive the vaccine or who have compromised immune systems.

Ethan Lindenberger testifies during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, Tuesday, March 5, 2019, to examine vaccines, focusing on preventable disease outbreaks. (AP Photo/Carolyn Kaster)

Ethan Lindenberger of Norwalk, Ohio, told a congressional hearing last week that his mother refused to get him and his siblings vaccinated, so as soon as he turned 18, Lindenberger started getting the shots he needed.

“I grew up under my mother’s beliefs that vaccines are dangerous,” Lindenberger told a Senate health committee. He’d show her scientific studies but said she instead turned to illegitimate sources that “instill fear into the public.”

The World Health Organization named “vaccine hesitancy” — “the reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability of vaccines” — as one of its top 10 health concerns facing the world in 2019, according to Nieman Lab.

This culture of misinformation and alternative facts is increasingly compromising the health of our youngest citizens. It's time for adults to look at the facts.

Vaccines save lives. They have been saving lives for decades. They will continue to save lives. Anyone who says otherwise is a fool or a liar.