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Doctor says movement against masks in schools shows ignorance

| August 25, 2021 1:00 AM

I have been a medical doctor, family practice physician for 50 years, 44 of them in Whitefish and Columbia Falls. During those years I have seen children die from preventable diseases such as viral respiratory illness, meningitis, pneumococcal pneumonia and carbon monoxide poisoning. I have also seen many children suffering as they lay in croup tents fighting to breathe.

With the current significant rise across the country of the COVID-19 Delta Variant and its apparent predilection for infecting children at a much higher rate than the previous iterations of COVID-19 it is not surprising that, according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under 12 make up an increasing share of COVID cases, accounting for 19 percent of reported new cases.

These figures hold true for the Flathead Valley and with the beginning of school and the flu season ramping up, we can expect increasing numbers of sick children needing hospitalization. The Delta Variant will certainly play a major role in making children sick this fall. It is inevitable that some children will die of this preventable disease.

The vaccines are effective against Delta Variant and provide powerful protection against severe disease and death, but children under 12 are not as yet eligible to be vaccinated.

As I walked through the unmasked adult demonstrators (many with their children) at Whitefish City Hall on Wednesday evening, I couldn't help but wonder what their parents and grandparents would think about their protests against masking and protecting the unvaccinated children, including my two grandchildren, in the Whitefish Schools.

I was a polio pioneer at age 7, one of the first children across the country to receive the Salk polio vaccine. Although less than 1% of children at that time contracted paralysis the fear of one's child being paralyzed and needing an iron lung to breathe resulted in high vaccination rates and saved many children from a lifetime of crippling disease and death.

What would have happened if our parents and grandparents had decided that vaccinations against tetanus, whooping cough, diphtheria, measles, mumps, polio, German measles, and more recently meningitis, chickenpox, hepatitis, pneumonia, influenza, and the cancer-causing human papillomavirus violated their right to choose, invoking a "Don't Tread on Me" mentality that the demonstrators in Whitefish embraced with a zealous fervor reinforced by their shared ignorance and baseless medical opinions? As a father, grandfather, and lastly as a doctor I can contemplate the nightmare of having seen children die from preventable disease.

Having our children wear masks in grades kindergarten through sixth to protect themselves and their classmates until a vaccine is available in this age group is common sense, a trait that our parents and grandparents apparently valued when it came to the safety of their children.

Fortunately, our elected Whitefish School Board trustees have made the correct decision regarding protecting our children. Their decision was based on the science of preventing community spread disease and on their common sense. I applaud their decision.

Dr. Doug Pitman, Whitefish