It's absolutely clear: Vaccines are vital to public health
The Portland metro area is in the news again for all the wrong reasons. This time, it's an outbreak of measles in Clark County, Wash.
The county, home to Vancouver and other major Portland suburbs, has among the lowest immunization rates for kindergartners in Washington. In 2017, The Columbian newspaper reported that 22 percent of kindergarten students had not completed their required immunizations when they started school that year.
We're not just going to rag on Clark County, though. While that's where more than 50 measles cases have broken out this month, it's not the only place in the region where a sizable minority of young children are not being vaccinated.
Pamplin Media Group reported last year that in Oregon, the statewide rate for non-medical exemptions to mandatory kindergarten vaccinations reached a new high in the 2017-18 school year. Oregon Public Broadcasting, Pamplin Media Group's news partner, listed Oregon as having the highest vaccine exemption rate in the United States.
Even in Lake Oswego, roughly 5 percent of children in local schools — as much as eight percent on some campuses — are not fully vaccinated.
But it cannot be said clearly enough: Vaccinations prevent the spread of diseases, some of which are very serious, and some of which can cause long-term injury, disability or even death.
There is no debate within the scientific community. There is a consensus of medical professionals that vaccines work, and that vaccines are safe. All vaccines that are administered to patients go through rigorous quality testing to prove that they are both effective and have no serious side effects.
Measles is a preventable childhood disease. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control states that two doses of the MMR vaccine provides a 97 percent immunity rate. The vaccine also protects against mumps and rubella. A more recently developed version, the MMRV vaccine, adds chickenpox to that list. And thanks to herd immunity, if a large majority of the population is immunized, it becomes nearly impossible for diseases like these to spread.
Measles is also highly contagious and comes with a whole lot of nasty symptoms, including a full-body rash and a high fever. In some cases, it can be fatal. Put more simply, it is a disease no one wants to watch their child suffer. And it is a disease that no child should be suffering in the Portland area in 2019.
Just three years ago, thanks to widespread vaccination, the World Health Organization declared measles to have been eliminated in both North and South America. We should be done with measles. And yet measles outbreaks have flared up since then — most recently in Clark County, endangering non-immune children whose parents have chosen not to have them vaccinated, those who have been vaccinated but are not completely immune, or those too young to be vaccinated.
The only reason — let us stress, the only reason — why our kids are at risk for measles today is that a segment of the population is choosing not to vaccinate their kids. They are recklessly putting their own children at risk and callously putting the children of others at risk.
It's hard to say why this "anti-vaxxing" movement has taken off. Many proponents claim, without evidence, that vaccinations can cause autism. This is untrue. While the exact determinants of autism aren't fully known, studies have shown that the condition is likely passed down genetically or caused by infection during pregnancy. (Ironically, one of the diseases that has been linked to autism risk during pregnancy is rubella, to which the MMR and MMRV vaccines provide immunity.) In fact, there is no medical evidence that anything can cause autism in children after they have been born.
Why are so many parents ignoring medical experts and choosing not to vaccinate their children based on a myth?
Maybe it's mistrust of the health care industry in an era when medical bills can bankrupt people working two jobs and commonly prescribed painkillers can put patients on the path to a life-destroying opioid addiction.
Maybe it's simple, old-fashioned gullibility of the sort that has allowed frauds, scammers and charlatans to prosper for centuries, whether tempting unwitting peasants to settle in bucolic Greenland, selling snake oil curatives to wide-eyed townspeople, or convincing grandmothers to buy $1,000 worth of iTunes gift cards to bail their wayward grandchildren out of jail in Mexico.
Whatever the reason for "anti-vaxxing," it's harming children for no good reason. A measles outbreak mere miles from here should be a wake-up call to all area parents with doubts about vaccinations. Unless you're fine with children suffering from this disease that was supposed to have been eradicated years ago, follow your doctor's advice: Vaccinate your kids.
— Editorial Board, Pamplin Media Group
You count on us to stay informed and we depend on you to fund our efforts. Quality local journalism takes time and money. Please support us to protect the future of community journalism.