THERE IS disturbing evidence of public apathy in the United States concerning vaccination against communicable disease. In 1963, when the fear of polio was still relatively fresh in the public mind, 85 per cent of American children aged 1 to 4 years old had been fully vaccinated against polio. A decade later, the figure was 60 per cent. The decline in polio vaccinations has stabilized, but there is still an unfortunately large number of parents who are gambling with their children's health.
Idaho today represents a state where the impact of such a gamble is evident. Proportionately more measles infections have been reported there this winter than in any other state. Measles is a highly infectious disease almost wholely controllable with available vaccine; so are rubella, mumps, diphtheria, tetanus and whooping cough. Yet Idaho is one of several states with no law requiring school children to be immunized against these diseases.
Because Oklahoma had a similar measles outbreak a winter or so ago, its legislature passed a law requiring school children of all grades to be immunized against major childhood diseases.The Center for Disease Control in Atlanta is hoping other states will emulate Oklahoma's law. It requires proof of immunication from pupils in every grade in every school. In addition, public health officials and pediatricians should be looking to the needs of preschool children.
Vaccination is still one of the most powerful tools of preventive medicine. The point needs to be underlined on account of the bad publicity that vaccination received from the swine-flu program. It is unnecessary and unthinkable that Idaho-type epidemics should occur.