A tough but necessary step on vaccinations

The Observer editorial board

A new bill would make North Carolina one of the strictest states in the country regarding exemptions to childhood vaccinations.

The Senate bill, co-sponsored by Republican Jeff Tarte of Cornelius, would allow for some medical exemptions such as allergies to vaccines, but not religious exemptions. It’s tough on those who have philosophical differences or health fears with vaccinations. But it’s necessary.

North Carolina’s current statute needs updating. It doesn’t require polio and influenza B vaccinations for children, and it has a loophole that allows parents to game the system to avoid vaccinations. Parents who have a “religious” exemption don’t have to explain what that objection is. They also don’t have to identify their religion or show any evidence of religious affiliation.

We’ve advocated tightening that loophole so that people with legitimate religious objections, such as the Amish, can be distinguished from those with philosophical concerns. Tarte’s bill avoids that potential messiness but opens a new loophole by offering an exemption to home-schooled children.

We agree that it’s critical to keep non-vaccinated children out of public schools, where they might pose the biggest health threat. But those children interact with others elsewhere, and health officials fear that diseases once close to eradication could return in areas where clusters of non-vaccinated families live.

Tarte said last week that the bill is intended to be a “blueprint” that “opens a dialogue.” That’s good. The vaccination debate is a difficult tangle of government, personal freedom and public health.

But scientists have debunked the notion that vaccinations are linked to autism, as some charge, and other health problems from vaccines are so rare that they’re far outweighed by the greater risk of shunning vaccinations. Tarte’s bill is a promising step toward safety for all.

Good news for good causes

The recent merger battle surrounding the Family Dollar retail chain wasn’t a pleasant experience for its employees or the Charlotte region.

But out of that turmoil, which ended with an $8.5 billion sale to rival Dollar Tree, comes some very good news for local charities.

Howard Levine, chairman and CEO of Family Dollar, is giving $45 million worth of his Family Dollar stock to the Foundation for the Carolinas. Via the foundation, he will give away $3.2 million or more annually.

The gift further cements his position as one of the most influential philanthropists in the city, following the footsteps of his parents, Leon and Sandra Levine. He says he and his wife, Julie, will support social services efforts, education and Jewish causes.

We’re fortunate to have another generation of Levines making a major commitment to philanthropy.