Governor Daugaard’s Weekly Column: Vaccinating Saves Lives

Vaccinating Saves Lives
A column by Gov. Dennis Daugaard:

DaugaardFor those who grew up in the 1950s and early 1960s, measles was almost a childhood rite of passage. Fifty years ago there were half a million cases and 500 deaths reported in the United States every year. South Dakota experienced over 10,000 cases of measles during the peak years before the 1960s.

Since the 1950s measles and several other diseases – smallpox, polio, diphtheria, tetanus and mumps – have been either controlled or eliminated in South Dakota.

What accounts for this tremendous shift in public health? Improved nutrition, widespread understanding of how diseases are transmitted, and improved sanitation have all played a role. But by far the single most important factor in saving lives from contagious disease is childhood vaccinations. Thanks to Jonas Salk – who developed the polio vaccine – and others like him, people are living longer and more productive lives.

Unfortunately measles is trying to make a comeback in the United States. Measles is a highly contagious airborne disease that causes permanent brain damage in one in every 1,000 patients. It is fatal in three of every 1,000 patients. The majority of those who contract measles in the United States are preschoolers, adolescents and young adults who were not vaccinated.

As I write this, the state Department of Health has confirmed six cases of measles in South Dakota. After 17 years without a single case, we’ve had 6 confirmed cases in one week. Why? Because even though vaccinations are proven to prevent disease and save lives, some choose against vaccination.

Avoiding vaccination has been a recent trend. As the memory of these diseases fades into the past, too many people seem to forget the risk of not vaccinating children.  Unsubstantiated and discredited theories about side effects have created unreasonable anxiety. Medical professionals, repeated scientific studies and organizations such as the American Academy of Pediatrics agree that vaccination is vital and safe.

I recognize that there are extreme circumstances where a child may not be able to receive specific vaccines because of a severe allergy or condition. In South Dakota, we also allow people to forgo a vaccination for religious reasons.  But for the overwhelming majority of people, vaccines are safe and reliable.

Not vaccinating doesn’t just affect you and your kids. It puts others at risk as well. Just as the polio vaccine protected millions of children from disease in the 1950s, vaccines save lives today. Vaccination is just as necessary today as it was decades ago.