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By Colleen Mattimore, M.D.

I recently returned from the American Academy of Pediatrics vaccine summit for chapter members in New York. The exciting developments that my colleagues and I learned about were in stark contrast to disturbing attitudes that are emerging right here at home.

Despite the overwhelming body of scientific evidence that repeatedly proves that vaccines are safe and the most effective way to combat disease, there are those who choose to put the safety and health of their children on the line by delaying vaccinations.

There is disturbing new evidence that parents in New York are increasingly keeping their children from getting vaccinations on time. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that nearly twice as many parents in New York have cited religious reasons for delaying or exempting their children from vaccines. Not surprisingly, the increase in opting out has produced an increase of diseases like whooping cough – cases of which have jumped dramatically both in our state and across the country. The study found a link between the rise in exemptions and the rise in the vaccine-preventable disease.

It is the success of vaccines that often leads parents to refuse them. Because immunizations have eliminated diseases that were prominent – and often deadly – a generation or two ago, parents don’t see measles, mumps, polio or epiglottitis. They are letting their guard down, and the risk is great.

Globally, vaccines are precious. They are sought after. They are respected for their effectiveness in preventing disease. Some of the amazing developments we learned about include the work being done to eradicate polio in India – there has not been a reported case in 18 months.

But still, I have parents in my practice refusing vaccines for their children. These parents are often misinformed, seeking their information from the Internet instead of their pediatrician. Many are naïve about vaccine-preventable diseases.

There has been a push in New York to make it easier for parents to opt out of vaccinations by adding a philosophical exemption clause to immunization mandates. If allowed to go through, this new exemption will make the situation outlined above even worse.

In states where exemptions are more easily allowed, disease rates have risen dramatically. Some states, including California, Vermont and Washington, have made it more difficult to claim an exemption after disease rates spiked. After the changes and stricter enforcement, disease rates dropped.

Vaccines are one of the greatest medical advances in the modern era. Vaccines are safe. Vaccines save lives. The message is simple: Vaccinate your children.

Colleen Mattimore, M.D., is a managing partner at WNY Pediatrics in Orchard Park.