Editorial

The Observer-Reporter building in Washington

Whatever issue is at hand, one can usually count on state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, to be on the wrong side of it. Such is the case with his renewed push to win approval of his legislation that would prevent doctors from denying care to children whose parents choose not to have them immunized.

Perhaps nobody has told Metcalfe, but this country is currently in the grip of the largest measles outbreak in a quarter-century. But if he’s aware of it, he wouldn’t care anyway: because freedom.

Metcalfe’s bill, according to a report in the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, states that health-care providers could not “harass, coerce, scold or threaten” a patient or a parent who refuses vaccinations. The measure also would block health insurers from penalizing doctors because of low immunization rates, and forbid doctors from accepting bonuses or incentives from insurance or drug companies for getting patients immunized.

As the P-G notes, the current U.S. measles outbreak has surpassed 700 cases, and there also have been mumps outbreaks across the country, including one at Temple University in Philadelphia that has sickened nearly 150 people. This, despite the fact that there’s a single vaccine that can offer protection against both diseases.

Why do we find ourselves battling a major measles outbreak when the disease was declared eradicated years ago? One big reason is the boneheaded anti-vaccination movement, which has adherents on both the left and right of the political spectrum. Anti-vaxxers peddle misinformation and outright lies about the effectiveness and safety of vaccines, and as a result of their efforts and a lack of sufficiently strong laws regarding immunization in some states, including Pennsylvania, we find ourselves in this situation.

In our state, parents who send their children to public schools are still permitted to opt out of immunizations for religious or personal reasons. That needs to stop. One person’s beliefs should not be able to put another person’s child, or anyone else, in peril.

Caryl Stern, president of UNICEF USA, told the P-G that 1 in 5 of the world’s most vulnerable children lack access to immunization.

“Science has disproved many of the theories of what vaccinations might do and has proven when they can do. ... I find it hard to grasp those who are choosing not to take advantage of what is readily available to them,” said Stern.

Gary Emmett, a professor of pediatrics at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia, told the newspaper that he doubts doctors would comply with the law if it were to be approved.

“If your child isn’t getting immunized, it’s not just a danger for your child. It’s a danger for every child in the (doctor’s) office,” Emmett said.

Doctors should have a right – and perhaps even a duty – to protect those who come to them for care, especially the most vulnerable among us: children. But we wouldn’t expect Metcalfe to understand that, or to care.

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