Ignorance or willful neglect is putting Utah's children, especially infants, at risk.
These are not cases of the sort of child abuse or neglect that can put parents in jail. It is a simple crime of omission: Parents are failing to get their children properly immunized against communicable diseases.
Whooping cough is the most prevalent example. The Salt Lake Valley Health Department reports 280 cases of the disease (officially pertussis) so far this year and estimates that each known case represents 10 to 20 cases that never get reported. The numbers are increasing. In just the past two weeks, the department has seen 21 new cases, an increase of 10 over the five-year average for the same time period.
The disease can cause long-lasting symptoms, including a hacking cough, irritated bronchial tubes, fatigue and trouble breathing in people of any age, but it is most often fatal to babies. The epidemic is particularly alarming because it is completely preventable.
Vaccinating children at recommended intervals from birth and getting boosters as adults can prevent whooping cough. But a national survey shows that about 10 percent of parents in America are ignoring the advice of health agencies and doctors and are failing to have their children vaccinated.
That is irresponsible parenting, and it puts not only the children of those parents at risk but other children as well.
There is a feeling among some parents that no one else has a right to make decisions about their children's health. But when they fail to get their children vaccinated, they are contributing to the spread of this dangerous disease.
Vaccines are safe and can prevent other diseases as well, such as diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, and now even cervical cancer. Refusing to take advantage of this simple and affordable method of preventing disease is a mistake that parents almost certainly will one day regret.
There is really no good excuse for failing to keep childhood vaccinations up-to-date. Health departments offer the shots free or at reduced cost for low-income families, and pediatricians have plenty of the vaccine.
Some misinformed parents wrongly believe that vaccinations are dangerous. In 1998 Andrew Wakefield, a British physician and quasi-researcher, published a study linking vaccines and autism. That study has been proven fraudulent, Wakefield has been barred from practicing medicine and the publication that printed the article retracted it and apologized. There is no demonstrated link between vaccinations and autism. Period.
But the myth, like a virus, is hard to kill.