Editorial Roundup: South Dakota

Yankton Press & Dakotan. May 21, 2024.

Editorial: Vaccine Mandates And Future Questions

There is, quite likely, a conversation that will be looming in the South Dakota and Nebraska state capitols at some point, based on a disturbing trend being seen elsewhere.

According to the Stateline news service, more states are looking at loosening their childhood vaccination requirements. While it could be seen as COVID-19 vaccination backlash, the trend has actually been building for several years, although it has gained traction since the pandemic began.

And this trend has health officials worried.

Childhood vaccinations have been part of life for decades, and in the process, diseases such as polio, mumps and measles were greatly curtailed, even practically eliminated.

But resistance to the vaccines has risen. Misinformation has fueled some of this, especially a since-refuted — but still widely circulated — claim that vaccines can cause autism in children. And, frankly, people forget what life was like when vaccines weren’t available or required — they forget the specter of death or a life spent crippled because of polio, which vaccines virtually eradicated. There is now not only a growing resistance to vaccination mandates but also a rise in exceptions to allow families to not have their children vaccinated.

“Public health experts worry the renewed opposition to childhood immunizations will reverse state gains in vaccination rates,” Stateline reported. “Meanwhile, cases of some diseases, including measles, have increased across the country.”

The Hill newspaper noted that every state in the country, as well as the District of Columbia, requires children to get vaccinated against certain diseases before they can start school.

But with more resistance to vaccination mandates, some diseases are staging a comeback. “There have been measles outbreaks in 15 states this year, most recently in Florida, where state Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo did not recommend parents vaccinate their children or keep unvaccinated students home from school as a precaution,” The Hill reported.

The personal choice argument, unfortunately, does not limit the potential damage to just those families that resist vaccinations. As Stateline noted, “Vaccines protect not only the patient, but also those around them. Science has shown that a population can reach community immunity, also known as herd immunity, once a certain percentage of the group is vaccinated. That herd immunity can protect people who can’t get vaccinated, such as those with weakened immune systems or serious allergies, by reducing their chances of infection.”

But the trend is inching the other way. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported that national vaccine coverage in schools fell from 95% in 2019-2020 to about 93% last year.

So, with vaccinations receding gradually and some lawmakers pushing anti-mandate legislation — and with former President Donald Trump stating on the campaign trail he would defund schools that have vaccine mandates (his handlers say he is referring to the COVID vaccine, but Trump himself does not specifically say that on the stump) — are we reopening a pandora’s box of nightmares?

“I feel like we’re on the edge of a precipice here,” Paul Offit, a pediatrician and vaccine expert at the Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia, told The Hill. “You have the most contagious of the vaccine preventable diseases coming back to some extent, and with Donald Trump basically casting aspersions on vaccines, that’s only going to worsen.”

Which brings us back to what lawmakers in Pierre or Lincoln may do if anti-vaccine issues are brought up someday.

The science on the matter is clear, but so are the concerns — and the misinformation that can fuel worries.

Should the issue emerge, we hope our lawmakers rely on good science, and not bad politics, to make their decisions.