Editorial Roundup: Louisiana

The Advocate. September 15, 2023.

Editorial: Vaccines, both new and old, are lifesavers for kids and their families

By more than 9 to 1, Louisiana families believe in rolling up their sleeves to get vaccinated.

We hope that percentage, though, inches up a little more this school year. And given the potentially life-threatening impact of COVID-19 infections, we also hope that families will protect themselves against the newest contagious disease the old-fashioned way, with vaccinations.

Unfortunately, the coronavirus pandemic has let loose another contagion: fear and questioning of one of mankind’s greatest achievements, vaccinations.

“There are a lot of diseases that we have done very well effectively eradicating in this state,” said Dr. Joseph Kanter, who serves as the state health officer and medical director with the Louisiana Department of Health. “To the point that we take for granted the protections that we have built to them.”

Kanter and other experts worry that an increasing percentage of children have entered school unvaccinated, as more parents choose to file exemptions from standard required inoculations against mumps, measles and polio, among other communicable diseases. In the case of measles, the percentage of kindergartners statewide who are vaccinated has now dropped below what has been scientifically accepted as the threshold for herd immunity, causing experts to worry about potential outbreaks.

“There’s no question that the anti-vax movement is a larger entity now. It’s better funded, it’s better organized — and it’s been quite prolific at spreading its message,” Kanter said. “There’s a lot of families that have unfortunately fallen victim to that.”

Maybe COVID-19 has been the headline disease since 2020, but the fact is that measles and other childhood diseases can be devastating.

This newspaper’s Alena Maschke reported from Crowley, where increased vaccine hesitancy is worrying the teachers and staff who care for children. Superintendent Scott Richard said the percentage of kindergartners whose parents asked for them to be exempted from standard immunizations more than doubled in Acadia Parish over the past two years.

“The entire concept of vaccinations has become controversial,″ Richard said. While numbers for the current school year are not yet available on a parish-wide basis, Richard doubts that they’d show a rebound in vaccinations. “I would not be surprised if the numbers are static or even lower,” he said.

Which brings us back to the COVID-19 conversation.

A new vaccine is rolling out to meet the challenges of the latest variant of the potentially deadly disease. We urge everyone to talk to physicians and nurses about the benefits of vaccination.

Mandy K. Cohen is head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. “As a doctor, a mother and the head of the CDC, I would not recommend anything to others that I wouldn’t recommend for my own family,” she wrote recently in The New York Times.

It’s good advice.