Last week, the Oregon senate passed a bill that would make it more difficult for parents to refuse to vaccinate their children. This is a very good thing.
Of all the states in the country, Oregon has the worst vaccination rate. In the state, 6.4 percent of parents get a vaccine exemption, and that’s up from 5.8 percent last year. This number was less than two percent in 2001. Right now, state law requires that children be vaccinated to go to public and private school, as well as to use certified child care facilities. But parents can seek an exemption based on either a medical or religious concerns. Lots of Oregonian parents are choosing to forgo vaccinations because they erroneously believe that vaccines are dangerous.
For the uninitiated, this entire problem started back in 1998 with the publication of a study by Andrew Wakefield that purported to link the measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine with autism spectrum disorder (ASD). This study was, however, not just shoddy, but downright fraudulent. Studies conducted since Wakefield’s have found no link between vaccines and ASD, but that hasn’t kept the myth from growing roots in the minds of parents around the world.
This new bill targets the non-medical immunization exemptions. Parents who want a religious-based exemption would have to consult directly with a doctor or watch an educational video about the risks and benefits of vaccines. Then, if the parents choose to withhold the vaccinations from their children, they will have to provide proof of that of the educational consultation to schools and day cares before they enroll their child.
To be honest, I’m unconvinced that any amount of accurate education about immunizations will make a difference with the hardcore anti-vaccination crowd. But hopefully this will scoop up the parents who have been seduced by the unabashed fear-mongering and save some lives.
There is the predictable outrage coming from people who are oh-so concerned about the rights of the parents to raise their children. According to state senator Jeff Kruse, “I’m getting very tired of this legislative assembly and this body taking away the choices of parents as to how they raise their kids.”
I do understand the complaint. Here it is, the state, telling you, a parent, that you must inject some mysterious liquid into your precious baby. I empathize. Last year Congress held hearings on the increase in autism, and those long ago debunked myths came up. When a misinformation campaign gets that far, I understand how it could make parents a little skittish.
Here’s the thing, though. This isn’t about any one parent’s right to vaccinate or not vaccinate their child. This is about the right of the immunocompromised to live relatively healthy lives. This is about giving children a better chance of living to adulthood (which modern medicine has done a very good job at, by the way).
This is a public health issue. If you doubt that, all you need to do is look over the border to Washington state. Or Wisconsin. Or the United Kingdom. All of these places have had to deal with their own public health crises involving diseases that could have been prevented with vaccines. Anti-vaccine hysteria has even reached the developing world. Refusal to vaccinate based on specious evidence has caused over 100,000 preventable illnesses and over 1,000 preventable deaths.
As you can see, this goes way beyond what one parent decides to do with one child. If Oregon succeeds, it will protect us all.
Image credit: Flickr