Vaccination Nation: Privilege and Measles Wreck New York’s First Few Weeks of School

Mary Kelley, Scarlet Staff

10% of New York public school students were excluded from class at the beginning of September due to a lack of immunizations. A new law passed in New York revised the legislation about vaccinations, removing religious exemptions in an effort to curb recent measles’ outbreaks. 

Many parents were outraged, with some taking their children out of school completely and others leaving New York. The revision came about after the Board of Education spent years researching vaccinations and the significance of herd immunity. To ensure that each student is properly vaccinated before returning to class, each district is threatened with a $2,000 fine per student per day they attend class without  proper immunizations. There are some who consider vaccines a choice, and there are some who do not even have access to vaccines. Both of these groups have suffered due to the law, but hopefully with continued conversations both sides will become healthier as a result.
There are certain individuals who consider vaccinations a choice. Many of these people came about said belief due to the infamous report made by Andrew Wakefield in 1998. Wakefield claimed that there is a correlation between vaccinations and the development of Autism. This report was unfounded and, to be frank, stupid. The claim has been refuted many times and Wakefield’s work was faulty and unscientific. Still, this caused a fear that is still felt by plenty of Americans. 

In some ways this fear has been valuable. Parents have been more conscious of what their children consume or ingest. People have turned to researching medication and double checking their doctor, which can result in some actual good. 

It is a problem when parents, influencers, and politicians ignore scientific fact, and stick resolutely to their preconceived notions. These individuals’ lack of preventative action for their children, and those who interact with children, are quite likely the reason behind the revision in New York’s previous vaccination law. The parents working to avoid vaccinating their children for superficial reasons reduce the herd immunity that has kept our society healthy since the introduction of vaccinations in the 19th century.
Herd immunity is what keeps society’s most vulnerable safe. Most vaccines are useless for infants, as their bodies are growing so quickly. The vaccines would not “stick,” so babies rely on those around them to be immunized against measles, smallpox, polio, and the like. The more vaccinated people, less of the dangerous germs around those who are too young to be immunized against it.  Similarly, there are plenty of people who cannot be immunized due to medical reasons, like serious allergies, congenital diseases, or compromised immune systems. Herd immunity also allows genuine religious exemptions to exist.
The flip side of the new vaccine regulations is directly correlated to privilege. The biggest population sent home from school for not following the new revisions were minorities. These were families who didn’t have easy access to medical resources. Parents who do not speak English fluently. There were even instances of pure miscommunication, children fully up to date on their immunizations sent home due to one missing form. These children being excluded is a devastating consequence of the new law. They didn’t willfully attempt to circumvent the law, rather did not have the ability to follow it.
Luckily, New York is dedicated to ensuring that these students get back to school. Clinics have been working overtime to ensure that every person has access to vaccinations. Schools have been working to educate and communicate with parents. The law is to better ensure the safety of students, and those around them. New York legislators and the school board are searching for ways to accommodate those in need, paying belated attention to the less privileged children in need of better resources.