As a nurse with more than two decades of experience, I strongly oppose Sen. Warren Hamilton’s proposal to change vaccination guidelines in schools. Vaccinations prevent diseases hard-fought for decades. Immunization rates correlate with improved life expectancy, saving countless lives over the past century.

The only cases of whooping cough I have seen were in babies not yet fully immunized. Watching infants suffer in the neonatal intensive care unit, with all the pain, worry and financial strain involved, underscores the importance of community vaccination to protect the most vulnerable. Vaccinating to achieve herd immunity helps protect babies in the first six months of life, as well as individuals with medical or religious exemption.

The World Health Organization (WHO) considers immunization access a human right. Protecting public safety is about more than just personal health. Vaccination guidelines for schools protect other children, teachers and the elderly. Unvaccinated children should not be attending public schools as they pose a health risk to everyone with whom they come into contact.

Well child visits to meet vaccine standards may also be the only time a child sees a doctor, making vaccine appointments a singular opportunity to make sure children are reaching milestones, and for physicians to identify illness and check for signs of abuse. If children are not seen in a pediatrician’s office for school attendance, other problems will go untreated.

— Wanda Martin, McAlester

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