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Point of View: Oklahomans should choose vaccination

Dr. Don Wilbur
Dr. Don Wilbur

The issue of vaccination and its role in public health, including declining immunization rates throughout the country that concur with lowered rates in Oklahoma’s school children, is extremely concerning to me as a pediatrician with four decades of experience. The Oklahoma State Department of Health reports that kindergartners in 60 out of Oklahoma’s 77 counties are not vaccinated at a rate high enough to achieve community immunity.

It is not simply my personal opinion that vaccination is critical but rather, a scientific fact traceable to longer life spans and lower incidence of preventable disease overall. Vaccines prevent more than 2 million deaths each year, including stillbirths, early childhood demise and deaths in the population of elderly individuals as well as those in other less vulnerable life stages, according to the World Health Organization.

I attended Immunization Day at the Capitol on Feb. 18 hosted by the Oklahoma Alliance for Healthy Families to help inform legislators about the science behind vaccines. Our legislators are in office because they’re dedicated to the betterment of society; however, they cannot be experts in every area, including medicine, as their field of specialty. Meeting legislators and answering their questions about existing parent choice measures and how vaccines protect the population is part of my lifelong commitment to children’s health.

The purpose of the laws about which legislators are tasked with making informed decisions, after all, is ultimately to help and protect the people they serve. Proposed vaccine-related measures that will be heard this legislative session are not in the best interest of public health.

Vaccination is critical to our society’s well-being and remains the single most important advance in medicine, period. It has been proven safe and effective in clinical trials and with extensive testing. Complications are extremely rare and there is veritably no risk to being immunized.

The illnesses vaccines protect against, however, can be detrimental. I have served as chairman for state and national vaccine advisory committees and have seen the effects of the lack of public vaccination as well as the research behind their lifesaving efficacy.

Since the smallpox vaccine was first developed in the late 1700s, we have seen rates of disease decline in the societies where people are immunized. The opposite happens when rates of vaccination decline. For example, in 2000, there were no recorded cases of measles in the United States. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported more than 1,200 cases in 2019 throughout 31 states.

It was not by magic or by accident that the polio epidemic in the '50s was controlled, but rather, through vaccination. I urge all Oklahomans to choose vaccination for themselves and for their families.

Wilber, a pediatrician, is a member of the Oklahoma Alliance for Healthy Families (www.okhealthyfamily.org).

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