Vaccines—the harnessing of the body's own immune system to ward off disease—are an important public health achievement.
They have eradicated diseases such as polio that each year once killed thousands and left many more permanently handicapped.
They are inexpensive, generally involving only one or two doses for lifetime immunity.
It's surprising, therefore, that immunization rates are dropping in many Connecticut towns. In response, the General Assembly has taken up HB 5044.
Ensuring life-saving immunizations for public school children, the subject of the bill, is an important public policy priority for at least three reasons.
First, immunization saves lives. It is difficult to exaggerate how safe and effective vaccines are.
The science, and the data produced by the science, are overwhelming in their clarity: each year, vaccines save nearly six million lives.
The basic science and decades of clinical research surrounding immunizations demonstrate the safety of vaccinations.
Immunization's benefits dramatically outweigh the strikingly small risks associated with it.
Because of the success of vaccine science—and the public policy that implements that science—we often forget the misery caused by diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella and polio.
HB 5044 takes that grim history into account, building on the significant scientific and public policy achievement immunization policy has been.
Preventing Long-Term Disability
Second, immunization prevents long-term disability.
People who survive preventable diseases such as measles, mumps, rubella and polio often suffer lifelong and life-diminishing complications.
Most of us have seen the photos of polio victims living out their lives inside iron lungs or making their way through life in wheelchairs, or weighted down—literally and figuratively—with immense metal braces.
But many are unaware of the children who cope with cognitive impairment for the rest of their lives as a result of brain swelling (encephalitis) caused by a measles infection.
Since 2000, the measles vaccine has saved more than 20 million lives worldwide.
Protecting the Most Vulnerable
Third, immunization protects the most vulnerable among us—those who for medical reasons cannot be vaccinated or for whom vaccination is not effective.
Who makes up this population? Those undergoing cancer treatment, people infected with HIV, organ transplant recipients, and the aged.
That immunization saves the lives of the unvaccinated may sound counter intuitive, but the science makes sense—common sense.
If enough people in a community are immunized, disease cannot take hold within the community.
Those who cannot be vaccinated or for whom vaccination is not effective are nevertheless protected through the immunity of those who are vaccinated.
However, community immunity only works if 95% or more of the community is vaccinated.
Unfortunately, there are now 134 Connecticut schools with a student population below this 95% threshold.
HB 5044 is about safe schools, healthy workplaces, and following evidence-based science.
The legislation follows the science and sound public policy behind public school vaccination and helps promote community-wide immunity, safeguarding those who can't be vaccinated for medical reasons.