Opinion, WVPA Sharing

Opinion: As a pediatrician and mom, I thank Governor Justice for protecting WV kids

By Lisa M. Costello, M.D., M.P.H., F.A.A.P

I am grateful that Governor Jim Justice vetoed House Bill 5105. As a pediatrician and mother of a toddler, I cannot overstate the importance of routine childhood immunizations. I recommend them to my patients, and I choose them for my own daughter. I testified before the West Virginia Legislature to explain the medical science supporting immunizations and why we need to maintain our state’s strong school immunization policy. High rates of immunizations in schools and communities are our best protection against deadly yet preventable diseases like polio and measles. 

House Bill 5105 threatened to weaken our state’s school immunization policy. Vetoing that bill was an example of standing up for what is right for the health of our children and communities. A courageous leader does not put politics or personal power ahead of caring for the health of vulnerable people. Governor Justice made the right call here. Even a small decrease in immunization rates can result in devastating outbreaks of preventable diseases. That’s a risk to all of us. 

Immunizations help us toward building a society free from vaccine-preventable diseases. To me, as a pediatrician and a Christian mom, it’s the right thing to stand up for policies that protect West Virginians from suffering or dying unnecessarily. 

As a leader in two of our state’s largest professional pediatric and physician organizations, I am fortunate to represent the wonderful state of West Virginia on the national stage. We top the national charts in school immunization policies. House Bill 5105 put that, and all of us, at risk. When we look at neighboring states with weaker immunization policies, we see that that they have all had recent measles cases, while West Virginia has seen no such outbreaks. For now, Governor Justice’s act of care in vetoing this bill will help us to keep our routine childhood immunization rates strong. 

As much as I am grateful for the Governor’s veto, I also hope that this moment demonstrates how we cannot take our immunization policies or rates for granted. As a medical community, as parents and caregivers, and as good neighbors, we must stay alert and aware of threats to this gold-standard policy – and to the value of immunizations more broadly.

We need all kinds of leaders who prioritize doing what’s right for others and not only themselves. I strive to be that kind of leader in my communities, and that’s what I’ll encourage my daughter to do as she heads into her first day of Catholic school this fall. 

As a pediatrician and mom, I thank Governor Justice for protecting my patients and my daughter.

Dr. Lisa Costello is a pediatric hospitalist in Morgantown, W.Va., and past president of the West Virginia State Medical Association and the West Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, two of the state’s largest professional organizations serving children and adolescents. She and her husband are parents of a toddler.

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