Making the case for immunizations

REPORTER FILE PHOTO Nurse Mary Kanarvogel explains the importance of immunizations to protect children and their classmates.
Nurse Mary Kanarvogel explains the importance of immunizations to protect children and their classmates.

“To me, it’s not even a question.”

That’s Shelter Island School Nurse Mary Kanarvogel on the controversy about immunizing children prior to their enrolling in school.

By New York State law, children must have received required immunizations unless they are exempted for one of two reasons: they have a medical condition that prohibits the various inoculations; or they object on the basis of religious beliefs.

In the first case, a doctor must provide a letter indicating the reason the student is unable to take the required immunizations. As for religious beliefs, there’s a state form that must be completed and if the child has any history of having taken any protective shots — tetanus, for example, after an encounter with a rusty nail — that voids the religious claim completely, Ms. Kanarvogel said.

Ultimately, the decision rests with the superintendent of schools to accept or reject the reasons. If rejected, the parent must find another school where the child can be educated or home school that child.

Vaccines against disease is an important public health issue. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have reported  a spike in measles last year rising to 644, the most in a decade.

An anti-vaccine movement kicked off in 1998 when it was reported — incorrectly and later retracted — that linked vaccines with autism. But even though the report was proved fraudulent, many Americans still believe it.

Ms. Kanarvogel sees only about 1 percent of parents seeking to exempt their children from being immunized. Parents minds are made up when they approach her, she said. They’re generally not coming for advice, although she’s happy to discuss parents’ concerns at any time.

More money is spent trying to prove the false theory of an autism and vaccine connection than is being spent researching treatments and cures for various diseases, Ms. Kanarvogel said.

This generation of parents didn’t grow up surrounded by people crippled from polio or confined to iron lungs to facilitate breathing and, ironically, that’s because previous generations since the immunizations have been available and proven, many diseases have essentially eradicated in this country, she added.

There are some African countries with better records of immunization than in the United States, Ms. Kanarvogel said.

“You have rights as parents and I agree with that,” she said. But the decision should be informed by science, not rumors and unfounded fears. What’s more, when a parent opts out of having a child immunized, other children are in danger.

A child whose immune system is compromised by cancer treatments, for example, might be unable to attend school because of the chance that a classmate, lacking proper immunizations, might carry a disease that would endanger them.

Parents registering children for kindergarten here are expected to bring proof that their children have had the following inoculations:
• Polio
• Measles, mumps and rubella
• Hepatitis B
• Varicella

Parents with concerns can reach Ms. Kanarvogel by telephone at 749-0302 extension 129 or email at [email protected]