WASHINGTON — Businessman Malcolm Brabant dreamed of vaccinating his children for polio and was determined that U.S. girls who didn’t get shots as a kid wouldn’t live out the rest of their lives in pain.
On Tuesday, Gov. David Ige signed an executive order to require vaccination for students in kindergarten through 12th grade in Hawaii.
“Our business and political leaders in Hawaii are leaders in the world, and we want to show that we take measures to ensure that our students are protected,” Brabant said on CNN. “My ambition is to make sure our businesses keep coming to this state.”
Brabant’s idea was so ambitious that he considered starting a foreign-owned business that invested capital in the United States to attract young vaccine-initiated minds to his quest.
In 2015, Brabant and his wife Nicole opened the Hawaii Pacific Blood Bank. The nonprofit focuses on donor recruitment to vaccinate against polio and against the Ebola virus, among other diseases. To bolster the blood supply, they’ve expanded their donor focus to include the health of young people, of which Hawaii is one of the most endangered regions in the world.
The disease’s last massive outbreak occurred in 2000. Since then, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported annual polio cases nationwide have dropped from 476 to zero. In 2013, an 84-year-old Texas man accidentally infected three people who worked with him after he accidentally left a vial of polio vaccine inside his car.
Ige’s executive order on school vaccinations encourages school districts to explore how to provide health education in the school curriculum and makes it “appropriate and feasible” for all school-age children to be vaccinated.
One in 12 American children has not had the recommended doses of the three-shot series that inoculates them against tetanus, diphtheria and pertussis, according to the CDC. The Japanese government requires it and the European Union considered making it mandatory in 2013 but ultimately rejected the proposal amid controversy over which children should be included in the mandated immunizations and how vulnerable they are to developing vaccine-preventable diseases.
The Hawaii Public Education Department must now draft a policy to determine whether it will remain optional or mandate the vaccinations.
Bill Gates, the philanthropist, investor and Microsoft co-founder, was inspired by Brabant’s fight against polio after reading about it in the book, “One Billion Rising: End Polio Once and For All” published in 2015 by the Chatham House program. Ige and Gates met during a global summit in London for the Vaccine Power initiative in September 2015.
“I go to conferences all the time where people are saying ‘It’s impossible.’ I don’t accept this at all,” Gates told CNN. “Malala should be in school in Afghanistan and Sierra Leone and the thousands of kids like her are just not in school right now.”
Gates and Ige agreed that vaccinations are effective and cost-effective, and vaccinations are a good insurance policy that protects against vaccine-preventable diseases.
“It just made sense that if everybody gets vaccines, there’ll be less cases of polio,” said Chadds Ford, a district epidemiologist with the Department of Health in Lawrence, Mass. “And when you look at the countries where these vaccines are not used, you find millions of people who get paralyzed with polio.”
The new executive order brings national attention to the progressive movement by Hawaii and by the Philippines, which recently passed a bill that makes mandatory the three-shot series. In March, the state Assembly approved the bill, but the State Senate is expected to vote on a version that makes the shots voluntary.
Sweden and South Africa recently mandated the vaccine for children in their countries.
Why not here? One concern is that creating a law that requires universal vaccination could provide an opening for plaintiffs seeking compensation.
In the United States, about $100 billion was paid out in claims last year due to vaccine-associated medical conditions, according to the CDC.
The Legislature this year reauthorizes the vaccine law, which lapsed last July. The new law sets the vaccine requirements at one shot for each letter grade of school — from kindergarten through 12th grade — to protect children who are too old to receive the vaccines as required but attend public schools.
It also requires immunization for anyone who works with children at a day care, school or day care camp.
Hawaii was also the first state to pass a law mandating the human papillomavirus vaccine for girls, even before the vaccine for HPV was approved in 2006.