Dozens of anti-vaccination supporters gathered at the Capitol this week to amplify a message that vaccines are dangerous and remove the authority of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to require certain vaccinations in schools and day care facilities.

We do not support such legislation.

Our public health agencies and the medical experts who lead them should continue their advisement of vaccination policy for Kansans, not politicians.

Of all the states in the US, over the past 30 years, Kansas has seen the greatest decline in its health rankings, according to a recent study by United Health Foundation and the American Public Health Association (APHA). KDHE Secretary Lee Norman recently spoke about this alarming fact and other markers that show Kansas has a lot to do to improve our health outcomes, including increasing the number of people getting vaccinations.

Vaccination rates in Kansas have dropped below 90 percent which is the threshold needed to maintain “herd immunity,” something Lisa Hubbert, of the Kansas City Health Department, explained as “relying on the rest of the community to take the vaccines to protect those individuals who cannot take it.”

Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children put other children at risk who may not be old enough for the vaccine, have compromised immune systems or are allergic to any ingredient in the vaccine.

Efforts to better educate the public about the importance of vaccinations have increased in urgency. Sen. Pat Roberts introduced legislation last year instructing the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to award competitive grants for public information campaigns targeted to combat the anti-vaccine narrative.

Roberts’ legislation was initiated after an alarming rate of measles outbreaks across the county. “There are currently hundreds of people throughout the country suffering from measles, a disease that is 100% preventable thanks to modern medicine,” Roberts said at the time. “This legislation will help push back at misinformation and provide scientific evidence on why everyone should be vaccinated.”

In Thursday’s hearing, former Topeka Capital-Journal reporter Andy Marso, himself a meningitis survivor, reminded the committee what’s at stake if we don’t take seriously the need to vaccinate against communicable diseases. “It’s about people’s lives, limbs, vision, hearing and brain function,” Marso said. “Meningitis can steal them all. KDHE’s experts, free from any lobbying or re-election pressures, made a good decision for the sake of public health, and the vast majority of Kansans are fine with that decision.”

We concur. Limiting vaccine requirements in the face of zealous advocacy is not a responsible approach to improving the health of Kansans. While research does not prove that vaccinations cause the kinds of harms many anti-vaccination advocates claim, it is undeniable that vaccinations save lives.

Make sure you’re up to date on yours.