With more than 1,200 cases of measles in the United States as of mid-August, New Jersey doctors are dismayed to see previously eradicated viruses making a comeback across the country. They believe it corresponds with an uptick in the number of families opting out of regulated childhood vaccines.
Dr. Suraj Saggar of Holy Name Medical Center says New Jersey is facing 18 cases of the viral infection — three times as many cases in the past eight months than in all of 2018.
“My concern is that we are very fortunate to live in an age where we don’t see a lot of these childhood diseases,” said the infectious disease chief at the Teaneck hospital. “People forget that childhood diseases oftentimes killed inordinate amounts of children growing up, and I’m afraid of going back to that time.”
A new report from the New Jersey Hospital Association found that the number of children receiving religious exemptions from vaccinations has increased over the last five years, from 1.7% of all students to 2.6%, a 53% jump.
Sue Collins, co-founder of the NJ Coalition for Vaccination Choice, who rejects the “anti-vaxxer” label, advocates for families opting out. Her belief is that the medical community has added many more required vaccines to the schedule and there isn’t enough data on the safety of the combined medications.
She contends that trust for pharmaceutical companies is low, pointing to the opioid epidemic as an example.
“We would never say we expect everyone to take the same drug, we expect everyone to take the same treatment for cancer or anything,” said Collins. “But yet when it comes to vaccines we say, there’s no options. Everybody is the same timeline, the same vaccine, at the same dose.”
Physicians like Dr. Saggar say patients only need to visit the CDC or state health department website to see data on safety and efficacy rates for various vaccines.
“It’s irresponsible not to get vaccinated. Not only for your children but for the children who can’t get vaccinated, for the elderly patient battling cancer. It’s a public health issue, it’s a community issue. It’s a local, state, federal, global issue,” he said.