Right before we moved to the US, we experienced a very scary situation in Israel: wild Polio was found in environmental sewage samples – meaning that there were some number of people walking around infected with, or at least carrying Polio.
I’ve always been a big fan of vaccinations, and at the time my son was a toddler, so we were fairly concerned. Israel’s last Polio outbreak was in the 1980’s partly because of pockets with high rates of unvaccinated/incompletely vaccinated people.
The health authorities became extremely concerned and issued a directive urging parents to have children over the age of 12 months vaccinated with the oral vaccine – that’s the one our parents’ generation used. It’s the only way to prevent both infection and carrying Polio (the injected one used at the time and still used today in most of the Western world only prevents infection – you can still carry, and thus spread the disease). The downside is that there is a higher (though still tiny) risk of contracting Polio. Plus most people do have a few days of digestive symptoms from the vaccine.
The downside of the injected vaccine, however is that people can silently carry the disease. Polio is not eradicated. There are cases and outbreaks regularly all over the developing world. So whenever I encounter anti-vax sentiment, I try to tell the story about the day I got to work and saw a news story that the Ministry of Health was buying enough oral vaccine for every child in Israel. I was very concerned for my kids. I can’t imagine how I’d have felt had I not vaccinated them on schedule.
When we moved here, it was important to me to understand if we were in one of those areas of the US where significant numbers of parents don’t vaccinate on schedule. We aren’t – but there are definitely some private schools in MA that I wouldn’t feel comfortable with because of high exemption rates.
This Tableau viz showing rates of non-medical vaccine exemptions of kindergarten kids by zip code. This is 2014 data.