While there are a significant number of unvaccinated children because their parents oppose vaccines for a variety of reasons, in Maryland there are other at-risk groups that are probably more numerous ("Measles outbreak exposes holes in vaccine coverage,http://www.baltimoresun.com/health/bs-hs-measles-outbreak-20150130-story.html%23page=1 Jan. 30). Maryland is host to a large number of immigrants and even political refugees from countries like Syria and Libya in which the public health systems have broken down. Immigrant children arrive here without immunization records and probably without immunizations that would normally be given in their home countries.
School health officials in Prince Georges County estimated that their schools had 6,000 children without documentation of shots at the start of the 2013 school year. The county has halved that number, but that still leaves 3,000 children susceptible to a wide variety of vaccine-preventable diseases.
Immunized children are the first line of defense against some nasty diseases such as measles, hepatitis and whooping cough, and a huge pool of children lacking immunization constitutes a disease epidemic waiting to happen and potentially much more widespread than the Disneyland measles outbreak in western states. State and county public health officials plus the local medical communities will need to address this potential time bomb quickly. It is a lot safer and cheaper to give children necessary immunizations than to try to stamp out a disease outbreak once it has gained a foothold in the community.
Dr. Crossan O'Donovan, Dundalk
The writer is past president of the Maryland Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics.