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Editorial: Want a safe 2021? Get your COVID shot, and vaccinate the kids.
Wednesday, December 30, 2020 Chicago Tribune by EDITORIAL BOARD
While 2020, sadly, is the year of COVID-19, the good news is 2021 should be the year of the coronavirus vaccine. While we’re at it, let’s make it the year for childhood immunizations too.
The COVID-19 vaccine is being rolled out for certain health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities. On Tuesday, Chicago opened a mass vaccination site at Malcolm X College. Immunizing health care workers does double duty: They need to be protected from the infection risk while caring for those sick with COVID-19. They also can help model for the rest of us that the vaccine is safe and necessary. Life won’t return to a semblance of normal until the majority of Americans are immunized. For those in the general public, expect to get your shot as soon as spring.
Each version of the COVID-19 vaccine is tested on thousands of people to rule out dangers before receiving Food and Drug Administration approval. There is a remote chance of an allergic reaction, usually soon after getting the inoculation, according to the FDA, but it should be treatable and is no reason to skip the shot. “I feel extreme confidence in the safety and the efficacy of this vaccine,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s top infectious disease expert, said before he received his first round of the vaccine. You trust Dr. Fauci, right?
Minor side effects, such as soreness, fatigue and headache, are more common, as with other vaccines, but that’s also no reason to avoid a potentially lifesaving jab. “Those are not serious and in fact they are welcome,” Dr. Allison Arwady, Chicago’s public health commissioner, explained Tuesday before receiving her shot. “They are signs the immune system is responding and learning how to fight COVID,” she said. “They may be unpleasant for a day or two, but they are the signs of true protection ready to take hold.”
Don’t skip other vaccines
The COVID-19 vaccine isn’t the only protection in town, or under scrutiny, unfortunately. Since the pandemic hit, childhood immunizations have declined, exposing large numbers of people to nasty contagions.
This phenomenon showed up early. After President Donald Trump declared a national emergency on March 13, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention detected an immediate drop in orders for federally funded pediatric vaccines.
Some physicians’ offices postponed routine visits, and some parents decided not to risk exposing themselves or their children to the virus. On March 24, the CDC felt obligated to post guidance stressing the importance of getting kids inoculated against a variety of serious illnesses, including measles, whooping cough, diphtheria and polio.
But the decline persisted. A new report by the Blue Cross Blue Shield Association found that 40% of parents report that their children missed vaccines because of the virus. It says, “Children are on track to miss an estimated 9 million vaccination doses in 2020, a decrease of up to 26% in childhood vaccination doses compared to 2019.”Dr. Vincent Nelson,chief medical officer at BCBSA, says, “The possibility that preventable diseases, like polio, could become a threat to public health once again is particularly concerning.”
Well before COVID-19, doctors and public health agencies were already trying to overcome an anti-vaccine movement that has dissuaded many parents from getting their children inoculated. Every state requires immunizations for kids attending public schools, but most also allow parents to claim religious exemptions.
The movement has had an effect, and it’s not good. In 2000, the World Health Organization declared that measles had been “eliminated” from the United States.But it’s made a comeback. Last year, the CDC reported nearly 1,300 measles cases nationwide, more than triple the number in 2018, and the biggest number since 1992. Most of those infected, it said, had not been vaccinated. Whooping cough, or pertussis, has also rebounded, and up to 20 infants die of it each year.
No one should forget the fearful toll once taken by diseases that have been largely vanquished by vaccines. Before the measles vaccine, upward of 3 million Americans were infected each year, 48,000 were hospitalized and 400 to 500 of the victims died. Pertussis, which causes severe, prolonged coughing, killed about 9,000 Americans each year.
Don’t fear the waiting room
It took the miracle of vaccines, and their widespread use, to largely remove these and other age-old threats. But the success bred complacency, and false claims about side effects have convinced some parents to shun immunizations.
The drop this year, however, was mostly an understandable response to the pandemic. Since the spring, though, physicians have adopted precautions to make their offices safer — taking the temperature of arriving patients, limiting the number of people in waiting rooms, more disinfecting of surfaces and more use of virtual consultations. For parents who delayed shots, these changes should be reassuring.
COVID-19 may actually generate more interest in vaccinations. The expectation that a vaccine will put an end to the pandemic is a potent reminder of how valuable such innovations have been.
Polio and measles were brought under control. Next up: COVID-19, if everyone gets their shots as advised.
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The Tribune Editorial Board advocates for the equality of the individual, for personal responsibility, for a limited government role in the lives of the governed. The Tribune advocates for personal liberty, opportunity and enterprise, for free markets, free will and freedom of expression. Our editorials seek to help readers make sound decisions.