A new school year is just around the corner here in Newport-Mesa, and education officials are alerting parents that a new law requires students entering grades 7-12 to get a whooping cough booster shot. Incidents of whooping cough have exploded in the past year.

Yet this is an "old-fashioned" disease that many don't even remember, because, along with many other childhood diseases — like polio, chicken pox, measles and mumps — it had been virtually eradicated through immunization. The re-emergence of whooping cough is not just a health threat, but it indicates a breakdown in the mass immunization of children, which is one of the core components of our health-care system.

Over the past 10 years or so, distrust of "shots" by parents of children with autism has combined with religious prohibitions and political conspiracy theories, not to mention simple complacency, to undermine this important underpinning of public health.

There are now websites devoted entirely to warning against the alleged dangers of vaccinating infants, toddlers or older children. One website, which provides "boiler-plate" arguments for parents seeking religious exemption from immunization requirements, claims that vaccines are made from "aborted fetal tissue" and amount to cannibalism; that the practice of vaccination is superstition; that children are naturally "immunized," and so forth.

This is poppycock.

The fears of vaccination being promulgated by some parents of autistic children can be even more vociferous, as well as heartbreaking. Some of these parents — who struggle with difficult children and family lives — believe that exposure to a vaccine caused a major illness in their child, despite hard medical evidence to the contrary.

Most baby boomers remember getting an oral vaccine against polio, placed on a sugar cube, while sitting in the classroom. Most of that generation also knew, or knows, someone who was affected by polio. The threat of this highly contagious, disabling disease was very real back then. Vaccination meant the promise of a normal life, protected from this feared disease.

Decades later, with the success of the vaccination programs, some parents don't realize how important each individual's vaccination is to the overall public health, and vaccination rates are dropping. This is very unfortunate, because one child with a serious contagious disease can create havoc on a school district and a community.

It is simply irresponsible to send a child to school to interact with others without being properly immunized.

So, before the school buses start rolling, parents need to make sure their kids are fully vaccinated.