New York

NY Senate Proposal Gives Teens Agency in Vaccine Decisions

Public health officials and advocates have long decried studies which link vaccines and autism. For background on the troubling impacts that vaccine conspiracies have on children’s health, see CHIL’s blog post from last month. Recently in New York, one student with measles infected at least 21 others with the disease, reigniting vaccine campaigns. Advocates have been encouraging everyone to get vaccinated and discrediting the arguments of their anti-vaccination opponents.

Moreover, relevant industries beyond the field of public health are getting involved. Amazon, for example, is halting the sale of books which back autism cures and falsehoods about vaccines. New York lawmakers, too, are getting involved by proposing a bill which would allow teenagers to obtain vaccinations without parental consent.

If passed, the legislation would stipulate that minors over 14 years old may be given vaccines and boosters for prevention of diseases like mumps, diphtheria, influenza, hepatitis B, and more. Proponents say at 14, teens are mature enough to make vaccination decisions for themselves and may even be better at identifying vaccines misinformation often circulated on online platforms. This is an important measure for minors with parents prejudiced against vaccines, and also for those without active adult figures in their lives.

While supporters recognize parents have certain authority over decisions impacting their children’s health care, the decision to get vaccinated extends beyond an individual child’s health. That is, unvaccinated children put both themselves and others in their communities at risk for infection. Those ineligible for vaccines due to special medical circumstances become particularly vulnerable when more and more people around them remain unvaccinated by choice. Proposals like this one utilize our legal system to prioritize broader public health goals for people of all ages.

Children's Health, Today and Now

The New York Times wrote a piece looking back on the accomplishments and frustrations of Dr. Irwin Redlener, one of the founders of the Children’s Health Fund, who is stepping down from his administrative position this week.

 

Dr. Redlener’s team began the Children’s Health Fund in 1987 as a response to the poverty he saw in NYC. Today, it has more than 50 mobile pediatric clinics nationwide, and it is an important model for other initiatives in urban areas where poverty and systemic inequality endanger the health of children. Dr. Redlener lived his life to his word when he said, “life and work are based on a simple message: Kids can’t wait.” He points out that the consequences of failing to address a child’s health needs at each stage of development are real and irreversible. For example, failing to treat a child’s ear infection with antibiotics - a relatively simple thing to do - can lead to hearing loss in the long run, which is both a personal disability and a societal cost.

 

In NYC, the number of children living in city shelters have doubled since 1986. According to the New York Times, there are about 22,000 children living in city shelters today. This statistic has grave implications for children’s health. If these children do not have homes, their nutrition, education, and immunizations are all at risk. Economic factors have worsened the housing situation in NYC for the poor over the past few decades, and society has not come up with sufficient mechanisms to compensate for that.

 

Instead, at the national level, lawmakers seem determined to chip away at the existing social safety net even further in cuts to Medicaid under the proposed healthcare bill. Dr. Redlener told the New York Times that such cuts would leave children in more danger than ever during his career of over 30 years. He said that politicians have certainly frequently debated the parameters of what Medicaid would cover, but to gut the program as it is now being proposed had never entered the picture.

 

It is clear that we are at a critical juncture for the future of children’s healthcare, especially for children living in urban areas. Prioritizing the health of children today means preserving the societal health of the future.

 

To learn more about Dr. Relener and his work, read the full New York Times article. You can also read his upcoming book, "The Future of Us: What the Dreams of Children Mean for Twenty-First-Century America,” which will be published this September.

Water Quality in NYC Schools

A recent article in The New York Times reports that new lead testing in New York City schools reveals that many schools have lead levels that are higher than those recommended by the Environmental Protection Agency.

 

After high lead levels were exposed in Flint, Michigan, New York City officials were prompted to check lead levels in schools. However, the first round of testing was considered illegitimate after it was revealed that officials had run water for hours before testing the water for lead, a process called flushing that can artificially lower the lead levels in water.

 

Eighty three percent of school buildings in New York have at least one outlet with a lead level above the threshold of 15 parts per billion. Two school buildings in Queens had some of the worst results: in one school with 1,500 students, 34 outlets had levels above 15 parts per billion.

 

The New York City Department of Education (NYCDOE) responded quickly, sending home letters detailing these results and pledging action. NYCDOE has turned off outlets in question and will not be turning them back on until their levels are found to be under the threshold.  The potential impact of this finding cannot be overstated. It reflects a deeply ingrained system of negligence in the largest school system in the United States (over 1.1 million students attend more than 1,800 schools in New York City).  Despite a gradual decrease of children lead poisoning cases in New York City over the past decade, a problem of this scope shows that the tragedy of Flint is not unique to one particular city.

 

Children are a vulnerable portion of the population when it comes to environmental hazards. They spend their childhood in old school buildings with other students and teachers and will suffer consequences if lawmakers or officials shirk their duty to protect them. Parents are also left similarly helpless if a school system, as large as New York City’s, does not work to maintain the health of its students.

 

Thankfully, this detection occurred before cases of lead poisoning led to tragedy. Perhaps New York is indebted to Flint in that respect. Hopefully, New York City can set a model of decisive, proactive prevention of lead poisoning for future cities and school districts.  In the meantime, it is important for parents to stay involved and informed of their children’s health at school, and for parents to work with schools in order to provide the best possible learning environment for young students.