Vaccines protect more than the individual

Jackson County officials are justifiably concerned about the unusually large number of Ashland parents who refuse to allow their children to be vaccinated. Spending $10,000 on a study to find out why this is the case is reasonable — if that knowledge will help health officials convince more parents to immunize their kids. Otherwise, it's a waste of time and money.

Ashland has the highest proportion in the state of parents who claim a religious exemption to avoid vaccinations otherwise required before children can attend school. The religious exemption is the only exception allowed under state law.

We seriously doubt that the parents of 777 Ashland children are all avoiding vaccinations because of deeply held religious beliefs. We do understand that many parents have deeply held reservations about the perceived health risk vaccines may pose to their children.

One fear still cited by some parents is that vaccines may cause autism in children. This fear is based on a deeply flawed 1998 study that has long since been debunked and was retracted in 2010 by the medical journal that originally published it.

But the claims are still circulating on the Internet, as false claims have a way of doing.

So who is harmed when a child goes unvaccinated? That child is at greater risk of contracting a serious disease, but shouldn't his parents have the right to accept that risk on his behalf?

If only the unvaccinated child were at risk, we would be inclined to agree. Unfortunately, that's not the case.

Newborn babies, who are too young to be vaccinated, are at risk of permanent injury or death from the diseases against which vaccines protect. So are persons with compromised immune systems — including those undergoing chemotherapy or other cancer treatments.

No medical procedure is without some risk. That includes vaccinations. But the statistics are clear. The risks of measles, mumps, rubella and other serious diseases outweigh the risks posed by vaccines.

To vulnerable populations such as infants and cancer patients, a case of measles can be fatal. Those individuals cannot protect themselves by being vaccinated, so they rely on the rest of us to get vaccinated on their behalf.

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