Laslo Boyd: Secure the Borders

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By: Laslo Boyd

There’s a deadly epidemic sweeping the country.  To safeguard Maryland residents, extreme measures may be necessary. 

If you missed the news last week, there’s been an outbreak of “Mad Pol” disease.  Chris Christie, the Governor of New Jersey, told a questioner that parents should have a choice about whether or not to vaccinate their children.  Rand Paul, Senator from Kentucky and a doctor as well, raised similar concerns.  He then went a step further, noting that "I've heard of many tragic cases of walking, talking, normal children who wound up with profound mental disorders after vaccines."  Paul, with that comment, showed symptoms of a particularly virulent form of the disease known as the “Bachmann syndrome.”

Both Christie and Paul are widely seen as contenders for the Republican nomination for president in 2016, but there’s no conclusive proof linking that status to their remarks.  Or, to paraphrase Paul, there may be merely a correlation rather than causation involved.   Another possible explanation is that they were just reflexively disagreeing, as they often do, with President Obama, who had urged parents to make sure their kids got vaccinated.

Both these infectious disease authorities almost immediately “clarified” their remarks, acknowledged that their own children have in fact been vaccinated and, in Paul’s case, had another inoculation witnessed by photographers.  These belated steps did nothing, however, to redress the wildly irresponsible nature of their original statements.

Christie, as you may recall, was the guest of honor at the inauguration of Governor Larry Hogan.  We must all hope that the New Jersey Governor was not contagious during the time that he spent in the Free State.  It’s a bit worrisome that Hogan made a number of rash comments during his State of the State Address last week, but medical experts have confirmed that it was a different kind of rash.

Still, it’s best that we keep Christie and Paul out of Maryland until all signs of this epidemic have disappeared.  In taking that approach, we would be adopting the wise and thoughtful policy that Christie proposed during the Ebola scare.

Following an outbreak of measles that seems to have originated in Disneyland after the disease had been officially eliminated in this country, there’s been a lively national debate about the pros and cons of vaccination.  The affirmative side has facts, the views of public health officials and the medical community.  Diseases that once killed and severely damaged large numbers of people have been stopped in their tracks.  Few people think about small pox or polio today.  In fact, the elimination of those diseases and others may have contributed to the growing complacency that seems to characterize the views of many on the other side of the debate.

When I talked last week with Peter Beilenson, CEO of Evergreen Health Co-Op and former Health Commissioner in Baltimore City and in Howard County, he pointed to vaccinations as one of the key tools for preventive health care.  

He recounted a story of a measles outbreak in the Baltimore City Public Schools in the early 1990s as a result of lax enforcement of the vaccination requirement.  Through a concerted program of education, widespread information dissemination, and the threat to keep students from attending schools, the inoculation rate was increased from 62% to over 99% within a few months.  There have been no measles outbreaks since then.

Beilenson’s view is shared by just about everyone in the public health field.  All states have requirements for students to be vaccinated before they can attend school or day care.  Nonetheless there are parents on both ends of the political spectrum who are opposed to vaccinations.   Some have a religious basis for their position; some are skeptical about government mandates; some aren’t familiar with how damaging many of the diseases were before vaccinations were developed.

There are undoubtedly other explanations that aren’t so easily characterized.   The Internet is teeming with opinions masquerading as fact and erroneous information confused for research.   And, as with climate change deniers, there’s an unhealthy element of anti-science bias at work.

At the end of the day, there are two compelling reasons for all kids to get vaccinated.  In the first place, the medical evidence is overwhelming on the side of the benefits that come from vaccination.  There are risks, but they pale in comparison to the lives saved and illnesses prevented.  In many other parts of the world, parents would travel great distances and endure serious hardships to get the same vaccines for their children that some parents in this country brush aside.

A second point is that vaccinating your children benefits others as well.  By now, the phrase “herd immunity” is probably part of your vocabulary.  By not inoculating children for preventable diseases, you are placing others at greater risk of unnecessary exposure.  That approach is ultimately an irresponsible one.

And that brings us back to Chris Christie and Rand Paul.  Other Republicans have been keeping their distance from the views of these two.  I’m reassured that Governor Hogan hasn’t felt the need to join his friend from New Jersey in his ill-considered position.  It is ironic that two individuals who are seeking the highest leadership position in the United States have failed miserably in this test of leadership.

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Laslo Boyd's professional experience includes serving as education advisor to the Governor of Maryland, Acting Secretary of Higher Education, senior administrator in several higher education institutions and university professor.  His work in political campaigns has involved strategic communications, public opinion polling, and development of position papers.  Dr. Boyd has consulted for a wide range of clients in higher education, government, and business.  He has provided political commentary and analysis in both print and electronic media.