Vaccinations not about ‘freedom’ (copy)

A single-dose vial of the measles-mumps-rubella virus vaccine. Outbreaks of measles and mumps have been documented across the United States in recent years. 

Celebrity tattoo artist Kat Von D recently announced on Instagram that she will not vaccinate her unborn baby, a decision that prompted confusion, rage and backlash against her makeup brand. 

"I was a huge fan," one Instgrammer wrote. "But I'm immunocompromised. I know you don't want unsolicited advice, but I don't want unsolicited disease."

Another wrote, "Imagine being so ignorant you think autism is worse than polio."

Some moms praised Von D's decision: "You go mama! I loved my natural birth journey."  

But most reacted with criticism like this:

"Disgusting. Will no longer be following you or purchasing anything from your brand. #doresearch" 

Kat Von D is hardly the first celebrity to take this controversial stance. Dozens of influencers, including Jenny McCarthy, Alicia Silverstone, Robert Kennedy Jr., even President Donald Trump, have questioned vaccine safety.

"If I were President," Trump tweeted in 2014, "I would push for proper vaccinations but would not allow one time massive shots that a small child cannot take - AUTISM."

When Trump proposed last year to convene a new federal commission to study immunizations, the American Academy of Pediatrics reiterated that vaccines protect children's lives and prevent disease, including some forms of cancer. 

"Vaccines have been part of the fabric of our society for decades and are the most significant medical innovation of our time," the AAP press release explained. "Vaccines are safe. Vaccines are effective. Vaccines save lives."

Still, many "anti-vaxxers" cling to an old theory, long since debunked, that vaccines cause autism. The association is false, but the volume of unvaccinated children has risen in recent years.

In South Carolina, for example, the number of schoolchildren who qualify for a religious exemption to the state's vaccine requirements has increased by about 315 percent since 2010. 

Historically, vaccination rates have been high in South Carolina because state laws won't allow parents to claim "personal exemptions" for their children to bypass school vaccine rules.

Children aren't allowed to attend public school in South Carolina if they haven't been vaccinated unless they qualify for a medical or religious exemption.

But unlike medical exemptions, which require a doctor's note, the religious exemptions are easier to come by. Parents must fill out a form and get it notarized, but they're not required to answer questions about their specific religious beliefs or provide any proof that they actually adhere to a faith that opposes the vaccine schedule. 

During the 2010-11 school year, 2,996 children filed for this religious exemption, according to the S.C. Department of Health and Environmental Control. New numbers obtained by The Post and Courier last week show nearly 9,500 children were exempted during the 2017-18 school year. 

While these numbers more than tripled in less than a decade, DHEC officials characterized the number as a "slight increase," albeit one the agency finds "concerning."

"Those populations are at increased risk for the spread of vaccine preventable diseases," a spokeswoman for the agency said. "At this time, South Carolina law recognizes religious and medical exemptions. For any changes to occur, the General Assembly will have to change the law."

Meanwhile, recent outbreaks of measles and mumps around the country have been linked to unvaccinated children. And polio, once nearly eradicated, has re-emerged in Venezuela. 

These diseases are deadly. And left unchecked, they kill children. 

This isn't a threat confined to California or Oregon or New York, where large pockets of parents have decided to abstain their children from life-saving vaccines. 

As parents in South Carolina increasingly seek out these religious exemptions, long-dormant diseases could claim lives here, too. 

Reach Lauren Sausser at 843-937-5598.