Measles and polio are threatening to come back. Don’t let them. Get your kids vaccinated

Daniel A. Varela/dvarela@miamiherald.com
·3 min read

The back to school shopping list always includes classroom supplies, clothes and new shoes. This year, don’t forget to add vaccinations.

The debate over the COVID-19 vaccine may have bled off some support for the tried-and-true inoculations that have driven back once-common diseases. We’re already seeing the effect.

Measles and polio vaccination rates among Texas kids has dipped slightly. About 92.4% of Tarrant County kindergartners were vaccinated against measles at the start of last school year, according to a recent Star-Telegram news report.

In the Fort Worth school district itself, even fewer — about 85% — of kindergartners were vaccinated. Both are below the 95% threshold for herd immunity for measles, which means an outbreak could happen and spread the disease.

Some of the drop-off in childhood vaccination could be because in-person medical appointments all but halted when the pandemic began in 2020. Parents may be slow to get their children back to the doctor, especially if they’re generally well.

But according to the Texas Medical Association, physicians believe vaccination rates have “rebounded to near — but below — pre-pandemic levels” as pediatricians and other medical offices have been seeing patients normally for months now.

Which leaves us with increased skepticism in COVID-19 vaccines for young people spreading to other decades-old vaccines like those for measles and polio. Keller pediatrician Jason Terk calls measles and polio skepticism a “parallel contagion” to COVID.

The reasons that contribute to hesitancy for the COVID-19 vaccine for children — its development was relatively rushed, it’s new, there’s been a handful of adverse reactions among some youth, including myocarditis. And we’re loath to tell other parents how to raise children. But it’s is a community responsibility to keep awful diseases at bay.

Measles is a highly contagious, airborne disease that causes a severe fever and red, blotchy rash that can begin on the face and spread throughout the body. It is the leading cause of childhood mortality that is preventable through a vaccine and which has been nearly wiped out through consistent childhood vaccinations in the U.S.

In the 1960s, before a vaccine was available, measles affected 3,000 people per million. By the year 2000, it had fallen to 1 case per million in the U.S.

In 1991, a measles outbreak occurred at the Faith Tabernacle Congregation in Philadelphia, a church that discouraged members from vaccinating their children. Around 1,400 people were infected with measles, and nine children died.

Polio is awful, too. It is serious and life threatening. The virus that can affect the nervous system, causing muscle weakness, paralysis, or even death. There is no cure. However, it’s preventable through vaccination.

In New York, one positive case was reported August 7 in a young, unvaccinated woman who now has paralysis in her legs. State health officials believe there could be hundreds of infections not yet detected.

Measles and polio have been nearly eradicated in America since campaigns for childhood vaccinations took hold over generations. We have our grandparents to thank for that, and we certainly don’t want new outbreaks due to either laziness or ignorance.

There’s no reason not to vaccinate your child against these dreadful diseases — especially when vaccines have been available for decades and proved to work with only the rarest adverse effects.

Schools tend to require a list of immunizations but do allow exemptions, such as medical or conscience reasons. But otherwise, before you send your child to school with that brand new backpack, make sure they’ve gotten defenses against these ancient diseases, too.