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  1. Opinion

Anti-vaxxers ignore science and put kids at risk. | Editorial

Pinellas County parents and their delusional enablers who refuse to vaccinate their children are horribly uninformed, twist facts to fit their false narrative and reject established science. They spread untruths and cling to pseudo-medicine. Their ignorance endangers their children, your children and the rest of us.

The Tampa Bay Times reported Sunday that one North Pinellas County mother was convinced that vaccines caused her son's suspected autism, even though a doctor had never diagnosed him with the neurological condition. She even thought it would have been easier if he had contracted measles, a highly contagious virus that can cause pneumonia, ear infections, deafness and even brain damage or death in the worst cases. It's that kind of head-in-the-sand thinking that scientists let go unchecked for years. "We've been abhorrently quiet for far too long," one research scientist told the Times' Justine Griffin.

The experts need to speak out against the ignorance. They need to clearly and consistently explain the science behind vaccines and the dangers of going unvaccinated. They shouldn't just publish reports. They should broadcast them with the loudest megaphone they can find. They can't let the dilettantes and con artists that plague social media undermine one of the greatest medical breakthroughs in human history. Too many parents are making the wrong choice.

While misinformation abounds, it's never been easier to find the facts. The Internet allows near instant access to peer-reviewed studies that confirm the efficacy and safety of childhood vaccines. What you won't find anywhere is a legitimate study that concludes that vaccines cause autism. They don't, no matter what the anti-vaxxers proclaim.

Widespread use of vaccines helps keep germs from spreading, which protects people whose immunity may have waned or others who can't be vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons. If too many people opt out, that leaves everyone more vulnerable. It's no surprise then that the rise of the anti-vaccine movement has coincided with an increase in several preventable diseases. Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported 1,022 measles cases in 28 states so far this year, the most since 1992. That's a disturbing number for a disease we had essentially eradicated from the country in 2000.

Students need to be up-to-date on vaccinations to attend public schools. Anti-vaxxers get around the requirement by claiming a religious exemption. Between 2011 to 2018, the exemptions skyrocketed from 6,500 students to nearly 25,000, despite the fact that only a few small religions ban vaccinations. Florida's lawmakers can't legislate away ignorance, but they should end the religious exemption.

The state wouldn't be alone. California, Mississippi, West Virginia and Maine banned religious exemptions. New York did the same last week, after a frightening measles outbreak in New York City and Rockland County. The anti-vaxxers can choose to endanger their own children, but they shouldn't be allowed to imperil everyone else at school. The public health risk is too great.

For years, many schools have banned peanut butter to protect children with nut allergies. Surely we can require public school students be vaccinated against some of the world's most contagious diseases.