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Yale Pediatric Residents Testify In Support of Vaccination

April 27, 2020
by Alexis Rudd

I can confidently state that the Yale Pediatric resident community strongly supports vaccines. We counsel families daily on the importance and safety of immunizing children against preventable illnesses. We have been trained on the importance of “herd immunity" and have seen what happens when it breaks down — see the 2014 Disneyland measles outbreak.Thus, when it was announced that the Connecticut legislature would be considering a bill to remove the religious exemption for vaccinations, the pediatric residents were thrilled and eager to weigh in with our experience and expertise. The Public Health Committee of the Connecticut General Assembly hosted a hearing on February 19, 2020 where anyone from the general public could submit written or oral testimony in support or in opposition of the proposed bill. Under the guidance of Ada Fenick, MD, associate professor of pediatrics, and other Yale Pediatric community members involved in legislative advocacy, many residents submitted supportive written testimonies and planned to attend the following day in person.

On the big day, around 20 members of our residency program caravanned up to the Legislative Office building in Hartford, the capital of Connecticut. It was not even 8 a.m. and we were already vastly outnumbered by opponents of the bill. In addition to their sheer volume, their organization was impressive. Hundreds of people held signs and wore stickers with statements such as “Made by God not Big Pharma.” They had a welcome table in the building lobby and were handing out stickers to all who approached. While we waited to enter the committee room, squeezed together in the midst of the crowd, we mentally prepared for what was to come.

The hearing was kicked off by the Commissioner of the CT Department of Public Health, who to our relief, announced she was in strong support of the bill. Her testimony was supported by science and logic, and clearly explained why vaccination is a public health issue. She explained that in order to keep our herd or community immunity against a certain illness, the World Health Organization (WHO) states that any given population should have 95% of its members immunized. This protects individuals who cannot medically receive the vaccine. Currently, 95.9% of Connecticut’s public-school children are vaccinated against measles. However, the number of people seeking religious exemptions rose by 25% last year. If this continues, we will lose our community immunity. Even now, more than 130 elementary schools in Connecticut do not meet the critical 95% vaccination rate, risking an outbreak. We were all bolstered by the Commissioner’s enthusiasm as she presented the facts. Several experts in the field followed, testifying in support of the bill.

One of those experts was our very own Marietta Vazquez, MD, who wears multiple distinguished hats within the Yale pediatric community. At this hearing, Dr. Vazquez, in her role as an infectious disease physician, stated that vaccines are incredibly safe and effective, and that many large well-conducted studies support these claims. Despite her excellent fact-based testimony, those who disagreed with the bill were not swayed. Countless individuals stood at the podium and expressed their fears about vaccines, and the disruption in their children’s lives that this bill would cause. All in all, the testimony from both sides lasted 22 hours.

Several days after the public hearing concluded, we were glued to the live stream coverage of the Public Health Committee’s final vote. Several amendments were brought forth, including one to grandfather in those children who are not currently vaccinated. After several procedural delays and debates, the time came to vote on the bill. Ultimately, the committee voted 14-11 in favor of moving the bill to the House of Representatives, a huge win for those of us in support of vaccines.

At this time, the next vote on this bill is uncertain given the COVID-19 pandemic. However, when that day does come, pediatric advocates will once again be glued to the live coverage, anxiously awaiting the final result. Until then, we will carry on with our daily routines, saving lives by administering one vaccine at a time.

Alexis Rudd, MD grew up in Miami, Florida before moving to Connecticut where she graduated from the University of Connecticut with a B.S. in Exercise Science. She earned her medical degree at Tulane University School of Medicine, and is currently a PGY-2 resident within the Yale Pediatrics program. Alexis will pursue a career in pediatric emergency medicine, with special interests in legislative advocacy and medical education.

Submitted by Alexa Tomassi on April 24, 2020