My View: Vote to limit immunization exceptions is vote for children
I am a pediatrician and a mother and I stand firmly in support of House Bill 3063.
My priority is to protect children, including my own young son, from preventable injuries and diseases. Modern medicine and public health achievements — perhaps the greatest of which is the development of safe and effective vaccines against fatal infectious diseases — have equipped me with the tools necessary to honor that commitment.
I've never sat at the bedside of a child infected with measles, or measles complicated by pneumonia or encephalitis, as my senior colleagues have.
And though I've cared for severely ill infants, too young to have been immunized and subsequently infected with vaccine-preventable diseases like whooping cough, these cases have been rare for me as a young physician.
My inexperience in treating these diseases is a privilege that I don't take for granted, and one that can be attributed to vaccines.
But the privilege I have known is endangered. An estimated 3 million to 4 million cases of measles occurred annually prior to the measles vaccine in 1963. By 2000, measles was eliminated in the United States. However, in 1998, a fraudulent study linking the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine to autism gave rise to a burgeoning anti-vaccination movement.
The rallying cry of this movement is fervent, emboldened not by fear rooted in fact, but by fear originating in fiction that has since been debunked. Yet this fiction continues to be propagated by sincere, well-intentioned parents who ultimately share a common goal with pediatricians and parents like me: We want to keep our children safe and healthy.
The nationally recognized measles outbreak in our region has reached 70 confirmed cases, four of which have been identified in Multnomah County. Most who have fallen ill are unimmunized children.
The number of cases continues to rise, and with it, the financial and societal toll associated with the outbreak. This is a tragedy of regression.
I am scared. I am scared that tomorrow a child with a fever and rash will walk into my Portland-based clinic and the outbreak that has been smoldering in my community will surge in my backyard. I am scared that I no longer will be able to protect my patients who are too young or sick to be vaccinated. I am scared that my own toddler is in danger because the community in which I chose to raise him may not choose to keep him safe. My fear is not based on fiction; it is based on history and fact.
HB 3063 would eliminate the nonmedical exemption for vaccination in school-age children with the goal of returning vaccination rates to levels needed to halt the spread of preventable infectious diseases. We have the opportunity to right the wrongs committed by misinformation and an abuse of privilege, to advocate for children, to protect our vulnerable populations, and to redirect history once again toward progress.
Visit www.oregonlegislature.gov to contact your legislators and vote "yes" in support of HB 3063. Our voices are powerful, but not until we use them.
Dr. Shaili Rajput is a pediatrician practicing and residing in Portland. She is a member of the Oregon Pediatric Society and has a master's degree in public health.