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Public Health Groups Push For Vaccines While Others Inform Parents Of Their Options

Back to school time means it's time for parents to get updated vaccinations for their children. 

Health advocates say new laws are making kids safer, but others warn there’s a battle looming over a parent’s right to choose whether their kids should get the shots.

To explain just how vital vaccines are, Doctor Robert Frenck recalls a much different time.

“When I grew up people were in fear every year of—what are now—vaccine preventable diseases,” said Frenck.

Frenck is the director of the infectious diseases division at Cincinnati Children’s Hospital. He says a good example of the kind of disease kids no longer have to fear is polio.

“Every summer people kept their kids inside and wouldn’t let them go to the public pool because they were afraid that they were gonna get polio and that disease is basically gone now and that’s because of vaccines,” Frenck said.

According to a survey by the Centers for Disease Control, when it comes to the totals of vaccinated kids in the past few years, Ohio has consistently had some of the worst numbers in the country.

But a new law requires essentially every child to be vaccinated if they go into child care facilities. Those kids would have to be immunized against 14 different diseases. A few more vaccines are included for kids going into grade school and throughout their education.

Melissa Wervey Arnold is the CEO of the Ohio Chapter for the American Academy of Pediatrics, a group that pushed hard to require immunizations at child care facilities.

Wervey Arnold says the requirement nudges parents who aren’t against immunizations but haven’t gotten around to getting them done.

“Life gets busy and time gets away from them especially with so many working families it just kind of falls to the side and they get around to it eventually,” said Wervey Arnold.

But there are some people who want parents to learn more about vaccinations before they rush to the doctor’s office.

Barbara Loe Fisher is president and co-founder of the Virginia-based National Vaccine Information Center. She says her group is not anti-vaccination, but instead is dedicated to informing parents and empowering them to make their own decisions. That includes providing a list of questions to ask their doctors when the time comes.

She adds that kids who are vaccinated can still be vulnerable to outbreaks.

“It’s a myth that if follow all the government recommended vaccines that you are going to be fully protected,” Loe Fisher said.

Loe Fisher’s group is also fighting to create or retain philosophical and religious exemptions from immunizations. California just made headlines by tossing out those exemptions as a possibility for parents. Ohio still has three exemptions available; medical, religious and philosophical.

While Loe Fisher says Ohio is a model state for exemptions, she warns that the pharmaceutical lobby will keep trying to chip away at those opt out measures.

“You’re going to see that lobby go into every state - including Ohio - and try to take away the religious and conscience exemptions leaving only a medical exemption in place,” said Loe Fisher.

Wervey Arnold with the American Academy of Pediatrics says that’s not her group’s goal, and she also stresses the importance of sticking to established facts.

“We never want to take away the parent’s right to choose at the end of the day we want parents to have a conversation with a medical provider, an educated conversation,” Wervey Arnold said.

Frenck at the Cincinnati Children’s Hospital says the newest generation of parents in particular needs to realize the importance of vaccines.

“Most young parents have not seen the real disease and that’s good but the reason they haven’t seen the real disease is because of vaccines,” said Frenck.

The pro-vaccine groups note the significance of immunizations by pointing out recent outbreaks including the mumps on Ohio State University’s campus last year, the measles in Ohio’s Amish country and also the measles traced back to Disneyland that spread nationwide.

Those advocates add that, in Ohio, if an outbreak occurs at a school all unvaccinated students must stay at home for the duration of the entire outbreak.

Jim has been with WCBE since 1996. Before that he worked as a reporter at another Columbus radio station, and for three newspapers in Southwest Florida.
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