Carol Ferguson: Parents need to know that vaccines work |
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Before its eradication in the U.S., polio affected millions. I should know; I am one of them.

After founding the Pennsylvania Polio Survivors Network (PPSN), I have been reminded every day of the fear that existed before this terrible virus met its match in Jonas Salk’s famous vaccine. It came too late for me. The effects of this vaccine-preventable disease have put me in a leg brace; I require a cane for stability and am dependent on a wheelchair for any distance walking.

Now diagnosed with post-polio syndrome (PPS), I do not see myself as a victim of this disease, and neither do my colleagues.

In spite of permanent paralysis, leg braces and wheelchairs, we are thriving. We are survivors and we are determined to support others in the fight — for each other, for those who still face polio across the globe and for any child who is vulnerable. We understand firsthand that no child should suffer from a vaccine-preventable disease. The pain and disability can last a lifetime.

We know that no parent wants to harm their child, yet many parents in the U.S. are “vaccine-hesitant.” They have never seen the effects of these terrible diseases. We also understand how easy it is to take in skewed statistics and misinformation about vaccines from the internet. These two things are a fearful combination.

There was a time not so long ago when millions of Americans, especially children, had no readily available defense against life-threatening illnesses. Now, the World Health Organization has declared vaccine hesitancy among the top 10 global health threats.

How do we help parents see the truth as to how permanent and disabling these diseases can be? How do we turn our passion into something meaningful? Certainly not with shouting matches. We want to share this truth with education.

PPSN has partnered with Rotary International to distribute Vaccine Information Cards. Through hospitals and pediatricians, we are making this resource available to every new parent in our state. The cards include easily accessed links to phone numbers and websites to credible vaccine information. Our message that brings forward Rotary International’s focus on disease prevention is simple, positive and evidence-based: Vaccines work.

State Sen. Judith Schwank, D-Berks, has introduced Senate Bill 626, which would direct the Department of Health to create and use a standardized form for requesting vaccine exemptions that includes a section for medical providers to confirm they gave parents scientifically accepted information on the benefits and risks of immunizations.

Sponsored by state Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, House Bill 1771 would require parents seeking a religious or philosophical exemption for vaccines required by schools to get an annual medical consultation to understand the threats to children’s health from communicable diseases. Currently, parents only need to sign a form for the exemption once rather than annually, as this bill would require.

These bills do not block those seeking religious or philosophical exemptions from attaining them. Their goal is not to shame parents, but to provide them with credible information so they can make informed decisions about protecting their children.

We hope all parents and citizens who wish to keep our schools, public spaces and homes safe from vaccine-preventable illnesses will rally their lawmakers to push these bills through.

Vaccines are among the greatest triumphs of our global science and medical communities. We are survivors who are doing our part to remind the world of that story. We hope parents understand that we don’t want any child to suffer the pain and disability from a vaccine-preventable disease. The pain and disability can, without question, last a lifetime.

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