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Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

Marshall University's Student Newspaper

The Parthenon

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Lawmakers: Please Keep Our Young Children Safe

West+Virginia+Capitol+Building+located+in+Charleston%2C+West+Virginia
Courtesy of Austin O’Connor
West Virginia Capitol Building located in Charleston, West Virginia

As an owner of the childcare facility and a passionate advocate for early childhood education, I was concerned this week to learn that the West Virginia House of Delegates passed HB 5105 weakening legacy vaccine requirements for previously eradicated diseases such as measles, mumps, polio, and pertussis with parental “religious or philosophical exemptions”. The bill may now head to the Senate where it could become law, and in effect threaten public health and our most vulnerable population: children under 12 months old who cannot yet be vaccinated.

As other recent insightful articles this week from Dr. Steven Eshenaur, Dr. Clay Marsh, Dr. Gozal, and Dr. Linda Boyd and other concerned citizens have pointed out, West Virginia is currently an exemplary example of a system that works. Due to our state’s strong immunization requirements put in place to achieve WHO’s recommended 95% herd immunity, our state has not seen a case of polio since 1970, and the last documented case of measles was in 2009. Many of these previously eradicated diseases such as mumps, measles, rubella, and polio have no specific treatment or cure; as Dr. Eshenaur states, the only way to prevent these highly communicable diseases from spreading in our communities is an effective immunization program like the one West Virginia has in effect now.

Proponents of this bill claim that parents should have the right to make healthcare decisions for their own children. However, constitutional law has always carefully balanced personal freedoms with how that freedom could harm others, such as drunk driving laws. Requiring children to undergo routine vaccinations of previously eradicated diseases before entering the school system is a fair and reasonable balance of these considerations.

Ninety-five percent of the population must be vaccinated against measles to keep it from spreading, not only to the unvaccinated but also the vaccinated. For polio, that threshold is 80%. For example, if 5% of parents decided not to immunize their children against measles, we could see not only the unvaccinated contract the disease, but also those who are vaccinated. If 20% of parents decided not to immunize their children against polio, our children could suffer the same consequences- especially our young kids who cannot be vaccinated before the age of one.

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In other states that have chosen to weaken legacy immunization requirements, residents and children have suffered disastrous and dangerous consequences. For example, our neighboring state of Ohio in 2022-2023 resulted in 85 measles cases, requiring 36 children to be hospitalized. Washington had a measles outbreak that left 800 kids in one county out of school and childcare facilities because of weakened immunization requirements for school-aged children. Florida was in the news last week after a frightening measles outbreak that infected 10 young children, including two children under the age of 4. One mom, Gemma Larkman Jones, has been sharing the heart-breaking story of her young son Samuel who died after brain inflammation resulting from a case of measles because she “doesn’t want any other parent to go through this.”

According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, before the development of the vaccine in 1963, an estimated 3 million to 4 million people in this country, mostly children, got the disease every year. “An estimated 400 to 500 people died, 48,000 were hospitalized, and 1,000 suffered encephalitis from measles,” the CDC said.” In 2019, when 31 states suffered measles outbreaks, West Virginia had none.

West Virginia working families already struggle to find accessible childcare and cannot afford to miss any more work, especially due to outbreaks of diseases that are easily preventable. With the loss of ARPA funding and over 604 daycares slated to close, we simply cannot close any more classrooms or childcare facilities as a whole. We were hopeful this session that the Legislature would support childcare and early education initiatives to help our kids and working families, but unfortunately bills that would reimburse providers based on enrollment versus attendance or would otherwise aid this crisis were not passed this session. Studies have shown that return on investment on this type of investment would help with West Virginia’s struggling workforce participation (one of the lowest in the country at 55%), as many families cannot afford to take jobs when childcare costs exceed their earnings. The last thing our already struggling childcare providers, working families, and schools need is a debilitating outbreak of preventable disease, pushing even more West Virginians out of the workforce.

To our elected officials in the Senate: please oppose this dangerous legislation. We cannot afford the strain of these types of outbreaks and our children deserve freedom from these highly communicable and deadly diseases. Instead of changing the law where our state is one of the best, we would ask that our
lawmakers address high priority issues such as the childcare crisis that could provide meaningful support for working families and our children.

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