March 11, 2020, SW News Media — 

As a physician, public health expert with a master’s in public health and the daughter of a polio survivor, I was dismayed to read in the Feb. 29 Prior Lake American that my state senator, Eric Pratt, told GOP caucus-goers he “stands with moms” when it comes to “vaccination decisions.”

Would Sen. Pratt say the same thing about any other lifesaving public health intervention? Car seats? Seat belts? Water sanitation? Why create a dichotomy when none exists? Aren’t we all on board with wanting what’s best for our young people?

And what about the enormous taxpayer-funded effort put forth by the Minnesota Department of Health in trying to raise vaccination rates in the wake of recent measles outbreaks? Does Pratt not understand the seriousness or the science of the issue?

If “vaccination decisions” are made by individual parents instead of public health authorities, innocent children will die or become disabled from lethal but preventable infectious diseases, as they currently do in many high-poverty countries. So will many adults. Our communities will see the return of horrific epidemics of past eras.

If coronavirus scares you like it does me, imagine the re-emergence of polio or diphtheria, diseases that in the past killed whole families at a time. The measles outbreaks of recent years are just the beginning.

It isn’t only children whose parents opt out who are put at risk. Because some people, such as infants, the elderly and immunocompromised people in our communities cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, their only protection against contagious disease is the immunity of others around them, a concept called herd immunity. Their health is compromised by healthy children whose parents decide to opt out of vaccination due to non-scientifically based skepticism and misinformation.

I encourage Sen. Pratt to consult with experts at the Health Department next time he is asked a medical question. I also encourage him to talk to his constituents who are old enough to remember an era when vaccines did not exist.

In the early 1950s, my dad had polio. At only 6 years old, he had to spend six weeks in a Minneapolis hospital, all alone, with his parents and siblings 100 miles away. This was in the era of polio wards, iron lungs and quarantines. Two years later the vaccine was invented, in time to protect my dad’s younger siblings.

For nearly 70 years afterwards, the only regret I ever heard my grandmother voice on the matter was that her oldest child had been born too early to benefit from it.

As a doctor, I know the science behind vaccines, and I know that they are safe. I know that community protection requires near 100% vaccination rates. And I side with science rather than ignorance and misinformation.

Dr. Andrea Nelsen
Prior Lake