Ohio lags behind other states in administering vaccines to children who are entering kindergarten. The recent outbreak of mumps in the Columbus area must spur health and education officials to close that gap.
State and local health officials reported this week that the mumps outbreak in central Ohio totals about 270 cases. More than 60 percent of those cases are linked to Ohio State University, though the disease began spreading to other parts of Columbus last month.
The number of mumps cases reported annually in the United States has dropped by 98 percent since a vaccine was introduced in the 1960s, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But the most recent outbreak shows that lax regulation can have a disastrous effect on public health.
Ohio requires students in public school to be vaccinated, but grants medical and “philosophical” exemptions. An estimated 1.3 percent of Ohio kindergartners — nearly 1,900 children — have nonmedical exemptions, according to the CDC.
Yet thousands of children who enter kindergarten are not receiving an early-vaccination cocktail, which includes vaccines for measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR). The first round is given around a child’s first birthday, followed by a second dose before a child starts school.
According to the CDC’s national immunization survey, 66.8 percent of Ohio children between the ages of 19 and 35 months received the vaccine series, compared to the national average of 68.4 percent, for the 2011-2012 school year.
Ohio is seeing its highest number of cases of contagious diseases in generations. As immunization rates drop, outbreaks are occurring in vulnerable populations. These diseases can be deadly.
Medical experts say there is a direct correlation between children who go through life without appropriate immunizations, and then live in a large public setting such as a campus, and their susceptibility to communicable disease as well as their risk of spreading it.
Ohio colleges do not require students to be immunized; 24 other states require incoming freshmen to have received at least one dose of the MMR vaccine.
Ohio Department of Health epidemiologist Mary DiOrio notes: “Immunization is the most effective way to protect yourself and your family from vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Parents also must overcome their misguided fears about the danger of vaccinations, or the number of cases of disease will continue to grow locally and nationally. Medical studies have debunked the harmful myth that the MMR vaccination can cause autism.
Progress in combating disease is being erased because health and school officials are failing to educate parents about how important vaccinations can be. Ohio, too long a laggard, needs to become a leader in this area.