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Published: Thursday, 5/13/2004

The chicken pox threat

CHICKEN pox may be considered by some a rite of passage for children. But the disease is anything but benign; it can cause complications and require expensive treatment that can run up to $100,000 in some instances. It can even be fatal, both to children and adults. The need to save lives and avoid costly treatments ought to compel the state to require chicken pox vaccinations for children.

Ohio should be embarrassed that it's one of seven states that don't require chicken pox vaccinations. That's why the American Academy of Pediatrics, the Ohio chapter of the academy, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the federal government recommend them.

Right now a bill under study by an Ohio House committee would mandate that every child be vaccinated before going to school. This measure should become law. Mandatory vaccination bills have been introduced before, but in previous sessions they died.

Fewer deaths and complications from chicken pox have occurred since the vaccinations became available in 1995. And while from 75 percent to 80 percent of Ohio children get vaccinated, it's the other 20 percent that concerns health officials. One unvaccinated child can spread the disease to many others.

Multiply that one case several times, and it's clear why doctors are worried. Ordinarily toddlers are vaccinated between 12 to 18 months old. And when adults get the disease, which comes from a virus similar to the one that causes shingles, they face greater risks of complications and death.

Although state health department spokesman Jay Carey says the state favors mandatory vaccinations "in concept," it seems more concerned about the $800,000 it would have to pay each year for families that cannot afford them. But that's a false economy, considering what it would cost the state if it has to pay for Medicaid patients who need treatment for chicken pox complications.

This is a bill that should become law.

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