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Oregon Legislature should tighten the rules on who is allowed to opt out of immunizations

It's time for the vast majority of parents to trust the Oregon, national and international scientific communities and to get their kids immunized.

Against measles, for sure. That's been in the news since an outbreak in Clark County, Washington (49 confirmed cases as of Monday), that has subsequently spread to Oregon.

But it's true for childhood immunizations in general.

That might mean the Oregon Legislature should tighten the rules on who is allowed to opt out of immunizations.

A 2017 report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that only 83 percent of Oregon adolescents had received their booster shots against tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough. At the time, Oregon had the seventh-lowest rate in the nation. The report also indicated that around 70 percent of children age 13 to 17 were vaccinated against four common strains of meningococcal disease.

Also in 2017, The Columbian newspaper reported that 22 percent of kindergarten students had not completed their required immunizations when they started school that year. Last year, the statewide rate for non-medical exemptions to mandatory kindergarten vaccinations reached a new high. Oregon Public Broadcasting recently listed Oregon as having the highest vaccine exemption rate in the United States.

It's time for people to stop believing starlets and fringe science, and to believe the Oregon Health Authority, the CDC and the World Health Organization: Immunizations were the greatest public health success story of the 20th century.

We're all lucky no one in Hollywood spread rumors that the polio vaccine caused autism. If someone had, today we'd have headlines about outbreaks of polio in some nearby community, and editorials like this one asking people to please, please get their kids immunized against polio.

Geoff Pursinger, editor of our sister publication, the Hillsboro Tribune, recently tweeted a photo of his weeks-old daughter with the caption, "As an incentive to vaccinate, here's a picture of the cute baby you'd be giving measles to. Please don't give measles to babies. #VaccinateYourChildren."

Exactly. The anti-vaccine movement isn't about "free choice" or "parents make the best decisions for their child, not the government." It's about people who don't believe the scientists making decisions for other people's children. Parents are free to make their choices, but they are not free to endanger other parents' children, or the vulnerable and fragile at any public daycare center, schools and hospitals.

Measles is a highly contagious, airborne disease caused by a virus, according to a CDC website. It starts with a fever, runny nose, cough, red eyes and sore throat, and is followed by a blotchy rash. Approximately 30 percent of reported cases have one or more complications including pneumonia, ear infections or diarrhea. On rare occasions, the virus causes encephalitis (a brain infection). Complications are more common in young children and adults. The best protection against measles is the vaccine.

Obviously, some people really shouldn't be immunized: Anyone who has ever had a life-threatening allergic reaction to the antibiotic neomycin, or anyone who's pregnant, or if you're ill when you're scheduled to get your shots.

But physicians and researchers have known for decades now that the MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine is safe and effective. Two doses of the vaccine are about 97 percent effective at preventing measles; one dose is about 93 percent effective. The CDC recommends children get the vaccine, starting with the first dose at ages 12 to 15 months, and the second dose at 4 to 6 years of age. Teens and adults also should be up to date on their vaccination.

And there is no evidence that has passed the peer review process to indicate it leads to autism or any other mysterious ailment. Those theories have been debunked.

Oregon isn't alone in requiring immunizations. All 50 states and the District of Columbia have laws that require children entering child care or public schools to have certain vaccinations against communicable diseases.

The Oregon Legislature needs to act. Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward championed vaccination legislation, but for this session she's one of the chief budget-writers. She won't be making policy, she'll be busy crafting the two-year budget.

So who will step up? Sen. Laurie Monnes Anderson of Gresham, a nurse who chairs the Senate Health Care Committee? Rep. Mitch Greenlick of Portland, who chairs the House Health Care Committee? Greenlick last week cancelled a meeting with an anti-vaxer, saying, "I don't have the patience to listen to your nonsense in the face of what is going on in Vancouver. Rather than disputing data your efforts could be better spent helping to make sure every kid gets immunized."

And of course, there's Gov. Kate Brown's comment at a recent forum in Bend: "Please get your children vaccinated. We know that what we are doing is not working because we're seeing the measles outbreak. I'll let the medical people talk about how important it is, but holy smokes, this is basic science. It absolutely is."

Getting your kids immunized makes them healthier, and makes their classmates and the entire community healthier.

Sidebar

As a reminder

Wednesday, Feb. 20, is the exclusion date for students in public schools and daycare programs to have their vaccinations. By that date, kids without their shots (or whose parents haven't sought the exemption) can be kept out of public schools or daycare centers.

For more information on vaccination requirements in Marion County, visit: https://shrtm.nu/EGL2

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