Across the Empire State, millions of families are getting ready for the annual back to school rush. New Yorkers are checking off their to-do list: shopping for clothes, buying school supplies and meeting new teachers. But this year, New Yorkers must also check back-to-school vaccinations off their list.
New York was ground zero for the deadliest measles outbreak in decades this spring. The state reported 1,045 cases of measles statewide through the end of last week — ranging from New York City and Westcheter to Rockland and Suffolk County. At the same time, a federal judge recently blocked a coalition of opponents’ request to postpone the state’s ban on religious exemptions from vaccines.
Bravo. Any other decision could have been fatal.
Put simply, vaccinating your kids saves lives.
From polio to smallpox, vaccines have played a foundational role in fighting some of the deadliest epidemics the world has ever seen. But in recent years, we’ve watched as a dangerous narrative has emerged in order to question the science surrounding immunizations, one of the most critical and important medical achievements of the last century.
As a board-certified internal medicine physician practicing in New York City for over 10 years, I’ve seen the terrible impact these beliefs can have if they gain momentum in hospitals and doctor’s offices like mine. The symptoms of measles range from incredibly painful to downright dangerous, including severe skin rashes and inflamed eyes to, in some cases, pneumonia and encephalitis (swelling of the brain).
Fortunately, diseases like Hepatitis B, tuberculosis, tetanus, polio and meningitis, which were once commonplace, have been reduced by up to 99% thanks to vaccines. Think about that: 99%. That’s more than a passing grade, it’s remarkable.
Now, as children head back to school next month, officials are already keeping an eye on the measles count and other vaccinations across the state. It’s the right thing to do. Our children go to school and deal with an endless list of worries from finishing their homework to making new friends. The last thing they should have to worry about in 2019 is contracting a 20th-century disease like measles.
When people choose not to vaccinate, their decision doesn’t just hurt themselves or their children: It endangers other New Yorkers (specifically our most vulnerable — infants, elderly, and those who cannot get vaccinations due to illnesses) as well as the health of our communities. As New York gets ready for back to school, let’s all study up on the importance of vaccines, take action to make sure our children our protected and do our part to prevent the preventable.
Esposito is medical director and an internist at the Oscar Center.