Irresponsible: Parents failing to vaccinate kids

Perhaps the medical advances of the last century have made us too blasé about the need for immunizations. Generations of Americans have never faced painful and disfiguring diseases, such as polio or measles, nor felt the terror of a rapidly spreading, highly contagious and potentially lethal illness.

Whatever the reason, far too many parents have neglected to get their children the much-needed whooping cough vaccination. Their irresponsibility is deadly.

Pertussis, or whooping cough, has made a terrible resurgence. Last year, California experienced the worst whooping cough outbreak in more than 60 years, killing 10 infants.

That's what is so frightening about the failure to vaccinate. Whooping cough is especially dangerous to the most vulnerable among us -- babies who are too young to be immunized against the disease.

Hoping to stop the outbreak, California this year required that all students in seventh to 12th grade have a whooping cough vaccination before school starts, or be sent home. While children usually receive the whooping cough shots as babies or before entering school, the immunization loses effectiveness over time and teens need a booster shot to keep the illness at bay.

The Legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown have given parents an extra 30 days to get their children vaccinated before students are barred from attending school.

Public health officials are understandably concerned that those 30 days will let the highly contagious whooping cough spread. (The confined space of classrooms makes for easy transmission of the disease.) Yet, nobody wants to see children miss school because of their parents' irresponsibility.

And it is highly irresponsible. There is no good reason for parents not to vaccinate their children. School districts and public health departments offer free vaccinations and booster shots -- so money is not an excuse. Plus, many local drug stores offer low-cost vaccinations.

Then there are parents who seek an exemption so they don't have to vaccinate their children based on discredited claims that the shots cause autism or other health problems.

Before the whooping cough outbreak, parents' failure to vaccinate their children may have been mildly vexing. But now, parents who fail to vaccinate their kids (or who refuse to get their own booster shot) expose their children and other children to a dangerous and highly preventible disease. They put at risk every baby in their midst. And that is nothing to be blase about.

-- Los Angeles Daily News, Aug. 5