Since Edward Jenner's discovery that using a small dosage of cowpox would keep an individual from contracting the more dangerous smallpox, his immunization technique—what we now call a vaccine—has become essential to our understanding of human health. Yet there are still skeptics who reject vaccines despite how they've eradicated smallpox from the world and diminished the presence of polio and other once vicious diseases. PBS Frontline noted in 2011 that one out of 20 kindergarten children didn't have the requisite vaccines to be at school, but they remained in school anyway. The irrational thinking on the part of anti-vax parents that lets these kids go to school without vaccines is based on particular medical mistakes and not in real corroborated medical science. This illogical thinking needs to stop if we are to promote a safe environment where pathogens remain non-communicable.

In most schools, which are pretty much Petri dishes where sickness can easily spread, administrations usually require medical paperwork from families, and for good reason—it's important to know how healthy their students are and if the school needs to accommodate them in any way. Among these files are immunization records in which specific vaccines are needed to attend school. The problem arises when schools offer religious exemptions for families that don't want to get vaccinated, making those who cannot be vaccinated due to allergies or health conditions more susceptible to the spread of pathogens.

Vaccinations stimulate the immune system to defend against viruses, but when citizens choose to deny inoculation, they are putting both themselves and others at risk. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there were over 2,000 cases of mumps in 2018. Outbreaks often occur when someone who isn't immunized is exposed to the disease while traveling abroad. When they bring the disease back home, the pathogen infects other humans and multiplies in its presence. The outbreaks could have been easily prevented if they had just been vaccinated earlier. On a side note, there were three cases of mumps diagnosed at U of M this fall, and while there was much humor to be had about the situation, the outbreak is emblematic of our need to vaccinate ourselves to maintain a healthy community.

Many parents demand exemption from vaccination because they believe vaccines cause autism. Most of these cases were not only misdiagnosed as autism, but no correlation was found between their condition and vaccines. The uproar regarding autism and vaccines has given rise to anti-vax movements in which worried mothers and fathers voice flawed concerns about the immunization process. While their concern is no doubt genuine, it's astounding how willing so many parents are to discredit the science behind vaccines and jump behind an illogical movement that is hurting every school's approach to health and safety.

It shouldn't be hard for our government to mandate vaccination in order to attend school regardless of religious or philosophical disagreement. It's been done before in Maryland and West Virginia, where a child must have the required vaccines to attend school and only medical exemptions are approved. It's certainly not a foolproof method as fake medical conditions can be forged, but the more direct approach would certainly help improve medical security in schools. While I'm not convinced that our current federal government will take much action in undercutting the anti-vax movement, it's clear that any government official, scientist, or parent who denies the credibility of vaccines and their benefit to society is playing a role in endangering our communities and subjecting the vulnerable to harmful diseases and pathogens once thought to be negligible. This is common sense and it shouldn't have to be said that science and vaccines are beneficial, but when the practice of discrediting science has suddenly become popular, whether it be in regards to climate change or vaccines, these movements surge in correlation.

Parents, just vaccinate your kids. It can't get any simpler.