The issue: Outbreaks of the highly contagious measles in nearby New York have raised concerns that Connecticut’s children, seniors and those with compromised immune systems could be put at risk to contract the disease that could lead to death.
Although only three cases of the disease once-thought eradicated have been reported in Connecticut, the potential is there for the number to increase. Measles is easily spread and the virus can remain hours after an infected person leaves a room.
Parents who do not vaccinate their children are putting entire communities in harm’s way.
A school-by-school report released earlier this month by the state Department of Public Health seemed to confirm the threat — 108 public and private schools are below the 95 percent immunization rate for measles, mumps and rubella recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What we said: “The percentage is important. Above that amount is what health officials call a ‘herd’ immunity, which protects the few who might not be vaccinated. Below that amount, however, the highly contagious disease can take hold.
Measles is dangerous. Severe complications include pneumonia and encephalitis ... For every 1,000 children who get measles, one or two will die from it, the CDC states. ...
The question is, what can be done? And what ought to be done.
Immunization is required for school attendance, but the state allows exemptions for religious or medical reasons.
It is time to examine the propriety of religious exemptions. No major religion preaches against vaccinating children ... Individual beliefs are putting others at risk. ...
Measles can be prevented. No child should have to endure the disease, or possibly die from it, because of those who refuse to vaccinate.”
— Editorial, May 5, 2019
What happened: House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, D-Hartford, was a proponent of removing the religious exemption for the vaccination otherwise required to attend school, as have several other states. Such a measure would have passed in the House, he said.
But two things happened to derail legislation this session.
About 500 people packed an informational hearing at the Capitol, including about 150 who threatened not to vote for legislators who would remove religious exemption. Although we consider that an ineffective threat, the turnout for the hearing underscored the controversy. At a time when other much more contentious topics face the legislators — whether to institute tolls or legalize recreational marijuana, come to mind — vaccinations were put aside for another session.
Second, the DPH school data report was found to have typographical errors and flawed statistics. New information is expected in June.
What should happen next: The clear possibility of a measles outbreak in Connecticut remains, no matter the protests or imprecise school data. Connecticut’s Public Health Commissioner Renee D. Coleman-Mitchell should take a leadership position on this issue. Her statement that “collectively considering all options to increase the rate of vaccination among our children is a desirable public health strategy” is wishy-washy.
And the General Assembly should act now because measles won’t wait until the next session in February.