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Vaccine education bill proposed

A state Assemblywoman says teaching middle and high school students about vaccines should lead to more people taking vaccines as they get older.

Assemblywoman Linda Rosenthal, D-New York City, introduced A.8870 earlier this week to amend the state Education Law to require instruction on vaccine science in every state middle and high school. Rosenthal wants to see health curriculum include information on vaccine history and development, effects of vaccines on the immune system, information on vaccine-preventable diseases and their spread, as well as information on thesafety and testing of vaccines.

“All 50 states have vaccination requirements for school but only 12 states require vaccine science to be included as part of their school curriculum,” Rosenthal wrote in her legislative justification. “Adding New York state to this list will help to stop the spread of misinformation and disinformation and ensure that young people learn early on the facts behind vaccines and how they improve public health.”

Rosenthal’s legislation has been referred to the Assembly Education Committee.

A study released in early January has tied gaps in education levels to willingness to take vaccines. University of North Carolina researchers mined county-level databases on COVID-19 vaccination rate and hesitancy and determined population characteristics based on those in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Social Vulnerability Index.

Vaccine uptake was defined as receipt of a full regimen of the COVID-19 vaccine, and hesitancy was defined as refusal to be vaccinated against COVID-19 even if the vaccine was available. Of all reasons cited for COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy, a lack of trust in the vaccines (55%) was the most common, followed by worries about side effects (48%) and low trust in the government (46%). Five of the 10 most common reasons given for vaccine hesitancy were related to a lack of knowledge about potential side effects, benefits, effectiveness, and risks of being unvaccinated. The study authors noted that COVID-19 vaccination not only reduces rates of infection and death; it can also lower health care costs by reducing emergency department visits, lower work absenteeism, and promote health equity through free vaccines distributed to the public.

The results, the authors said, indicate that lack of education, including gaps in knowledge about the vaccine, and poor infrastructure are ongoing barriers to COVID-19 vaccine uptake.

“Since we suspect that many of the dimensions of capacity…have been addressed in recent months, determining a strategy for decreasing hesitancy among less well-educated citizens appears to be the top challenge,” the researchers concluded. “Since education levels are not easily modifiable, our results suggest that policymakers would be best served by closing knowledge gaps to overcome negative perceptions of the vaccine through tailored interventions.”

Rosenthal points to recent statements by the World Health Organization and the U.S. Surgeon General about the threats of vaccine misinformation as a reason to increase education about vaccines as well as a two pre-COVID outbreaks of diseases prompted by pockets of unvaccinated people.

“As we continue to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, medical professionals and public health experts have been working to increase vaccination rates while also battling misinformation and disinformation that has spread,” Rosenthal wrote. “However, disinformation around vaccines is not just tied to the COVID-19 pandemic, it has slowly been growing nationwide. In 2019, New York state experienced a measles outbreak with more than 400 confirmed cases. Ten years prior, a mumps outbreak occurred with more than 3,000 people becoming infected.”

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