EDITORIAL: Lawmakers' failure on childhood immunitization bill is frustrating
The Oregon Legislature was expected to take up a bill this year to boost the number of children in Oregon who are immunized against preventable diseases.
That bill died without a public hearing over the weekend. So the state won't address this critical — and easily remedied — problem.
Senate Bill 254 would have removed parents' ability to decline required immunizations against preventable childhood illnesses for reasons other than medical (because a doctor says the vaccine would be harmful, given some other underlying condition). The immunization requirement is needed in order to create "herd immunity" — diseases can't easily spread if enough people are immune.
Oregon logged more cases of measles in 2019 than any year since 1991, because of outbreaks among unvaccinated children that could have been prevented.
Beyond a medical reason for refusing to get children vaccinated, in Oregon, parents also can opt out "just because." They can say it's for religious reasons, or political reasons, or just because they don't want "big brother" telling them how to live.
SB 254 would have closed that loophole. Which would result in more children receiving vaccines that scientists have known for decades and decades to be safe and effective.
A similar bill made it through both chambers in the 2019 Oregon legislative session, but then Gov. Kate Brown traded it away in order to get enough votes for the Student Success Act, which poured millions of dollars into public K-12 schools.
A similar bill had a good shot of getting through the 2020 session — if there had been a 2020 session. But Republicans walked out (yet again), refused to do the job voters sent them to Salem to do, thus ending the session before it really got started.
This year, the bill had a stronger than usual chance of winning because the very small but very loud anti-vaccination crowd couldn't flood the Capitol and hold other legislation hostage. This entire legislative session is virtual, with committees meeting via video conference call. So this was the year we finally could take the vote that would protect more kids from preventable diseases.
Why did it die? A lack of courage from proponents, for one. The "anti-vaxxers" have made life miserable for lawmakers who support healthy children, and other lawmakers don't want a piece of that.
Sen. Rob Wager, D-Lake Oswego, was a chief sponsor. He also chairs the Democratic Caucus in the Senate. "This is really frustrating for me," he told our editorial board. "But it's not something I'm ever going to give up on."
Maybe, but will his caucus? A Democrat traded this bill away in 2019. Republicans nixed it in 2020. Democrats today control the House, the Senate and the governor's office, yet we watched the bill wither and die.
We feel like Charlie Brown and the football. "Next year, for sure," proponents say.
What we need in Oregon is a vaccine that boosts lawmakers' backbones. Then maybe we'll get a policy that boosts children's immunity to preventable diseases.
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