April 22, 2015
Area(s) of Interest: Advocacy Public Health Vaccination
Standing one room away from an antique iron lung, a historic medical device once used to help polio patients breathe, survivors of the once widespread disease urged parents on Tuesday to get their children vaccinated in order to avoid suffering from completely preventable diseases.
The polio survivors surrounded Senator Richard Pan, M.D., who authored Senate Bill 277, which would require most children enrolled in school to be immunized from highly infectious diseases. They joined together at the Sierra Sacramento Valley Medical Society’s Museum of Medical History to speak on the importance of immunizations — one day before SB 277 was approved in the Senate Education Committee, 7-2. The bill now moves on to the Senate Judiciary Committee next Wednesday, April 29.
“If we are willing to look around us — willing to see — these diseases are still with us today, as the survivors remind us how serious and deadly polio, measles, hepatitis B and other preventable infections really are,” Dr. Pan said. “If we are willing to see, why would parents and our state not take every step possible to prevent these diseases from infecting our children and the children of families around us?”
One polio survivor, Lynn Lane, spoke of her experience with the virus and how she had to spend four months in an iron lung. She said she lived a “pretty normal childhood” despite everything that happened. But as a parent, decades later, it was a different virus that brought her pain.
Lane’s daughter, Beth, died from the H1N1 virus in 2009.
“Whatever parents do, please, please, get your children vaccinated,” she said. “I would hate to see anyone have to put their child in the ground from a disease that’s… preventable.”
Prior to vaccination, polio crippled an average of more than 35,000 people in the United States each year, Dr. Pan said. But thanks to the vaccine, the number of cases of paralytic polio dropped to 61 by 1965.
The outcome of the measles vaccination was similar, with the disease going from at one point hospitalizing 40,000 people each year to being declared eliminated in 2000 — again, thanks to immunizations. However, a rise in the number of measles cases recently has led policymakers to seek a sensible solution.
SB 277 would accomplish this by eliminating the personal belief exemption in school vaccination requirements, allowing only medical exemptions. Dr. Pan said he’s made two amendments to the bill since its delay in the Senate Education Committee last week. The bill’s language regarding home schooling is now broader.
The California Medical Association is a proud sponsor of SB 277 and joins many other organizations that endorse the bill as well. For a full list, go to www.vaccinatecalifornia.org.