Public health is defined as the science of protecting the safety and improving the health of communities through education, policy making and research for disease and injury prevention.
By protecting our communities from the spread of infectious disease, we are helping to ensure the health and safety of all of Connecticut’s residents. It is a responsibility we take seriously as the co-chairs of the Connecticut General Assembly’s Public Health Committee.
This responsibility has only been heightened by the current pandemic as we have seen how important it is to have a strong health care infrastructure in place to effectively respond to this kind of crisis.
However, many Connecticut residents may not realize that even before the pandemic, the public health community was fighting a battle in our schools and day cares where vaccine hesitancy threatens the safety and wellbeing of our children.
In 2019, an alarming statistic came to light in Connecticut. More than 130 of our schools fell below the 95% threshold of herd immunity established by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The data from the Connecticut Department of Public Health is concerning and flies in the face of our responsibility as the stewards of the state’s public health.
To put it simply, when more than 5% of school children are not fully immunized, unvaccinated children create a serious health risk for their classmates with conditions that prevent them from being vaccinated. Diseases that were once mere memories are on the rise. Schools around the country have seen outbreaks of the mumps and whooping cough and students are at greater risk for meningitis on college campuses.
The World Health Organization (WHO) declared comprehensive vaccine programs to be the cornerstone of good public health and one of modern medicine’s greatest success stories. Despite this fact, we continue to see increases in vaccine-preventable diseases and growing disparities in our vaccination rates.
What does all this mean? We have the tools necessary to protect our children from deadly, preventable diseases like measles, mumps, and meningitis. Diseases that in many cases lead to permanent disability and death. The state of Connecticut, based on medical and scientific data, requires school-aged children attending both public and private schools and day cares to be vaccinated against these diseases. However, non-medical exemptions are destabilizing our system and creating unsafe environments in 134 of our schools.
As stewards of our public health system, we cannot allow this situation to continue. It threatens the safety and security of all residents and weakens our health care infrastructure.
Next week, we will hear testimony on two bills (SB 568 and HB 6423) designed to strengthen our vaccine policies in Connecticut by removing the non-medical exemption to the required vaccine schedule here in our state. At the same time, we will enhance the “medical exemption” process by creating a standardized certificate and providing clear and concise guidance to our health care providers
We are considering these bills because it is the right thing to do for our public health, our communities and most importantly, our children.
We take this responsibility seriously and hope those opposed to these bills will understand our goal and our commitment to the safety and well-being of Connecticut’s residents. The right path isn’t always the path of least resistance — but our public health demands our attention and our leadership.
State Sen. Mary Abrams and state Rep. Jonathan Steinberg are Co-chairs of the Public Health Committee.
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