I’m about to talk about something that I know a lot of people feel really strongly about. I touched on it before in my post about denialism, but recent political events make me inclined to say it again, and say it stronger. I hope I say it strongly enough to convince you to sign my petition.
Oregon has the worst immunization rates in the country and has the most lenient rules on vaccine exemptions. Since 2000, the percentage of Oregon children entering kindergarten whose parents have chosen to exempt them from vaccines has grown from less than one percent to greater than seven percent. Why is that unacceptable? Because, as many of you know, vaccines only work when a certain percentage of the community is vaccinated. Together, this community of vaccinated individuals protects those for whom the vaccine wasn’t effective (yes, that happens) and those who are unable to be vaccinated (infants, cancer patients, kids who are too ill to get the vaccine). Each disease has a different “herd immunity” threshold – this threshold indicates the percentage of the community that must be vaccinated in order for the vaccine to work most effectively. For measles, that threshold is 94 percent. We are precariously close to falling below herd immunity for vaccine-preventable diseases, making those vaccines less effective for the community as a whole.
That pisses me off, and it should piss you off, too. Vaccines are safe and effective. The medical community is solid on that message. Nonetheless, parents are choosing not to vaccinate their kids because they don’t believe the medical community. Maybe they’re afraid of autism, maybe they think their kids should build up a natural immunity, maybe they don’t like the pharmaceutical industry but frankly, I don’t care why. Choosing not to vaccinate your kids is not like choosing a parenting approach; it’s not like choosing what to feed them for breakfast, or what car seat to use, or what school to send them to, or how much screen time they get. Because all of those things only impact you and your family. Choosing not to vaccinate your kids impacts MY FAMILY, and that’s why I’m pissed off. You do not get to make poorly-informed decisions that put my kids’ health in jeopardy because you think you know better than the doctors.
If you don’t want to vaccinate your kids, that’s fine. But you should not be allowed to send them to school with my kids because it’s selfish and dangerous. It’s straight-up selfish of these parents to rely on my vaccinated children to protect their unvaccinated children while at the same time they’re reducing the effectiveness of the vaccine for the entire community. Two doses of the measles vaccine is 97 percent effective at preventing measles. That means if my kid falls into that three percent for whom it is not effective, and there is a measles outbreak because the herd immunity falls below 94 percent, she could very well contract measles even though I had her fully vaccinated. For every 1,000 people who get measles, one to two of them die.
I vaccinated my kids, I did my part, but it’s still fully possible that one of my kids could die from a vaccine-preventable disease because other parents are deciding not to vaccinate. That’s unacceptable and needs to change. If immunization rates in Oregon continue to fall as they have been falling for the last 15 years, we’re headed for disaster. So let’s do something about it. I am not willing to wait until we have a much bigger problem on our hands before we make a change.
The Oregon Senate Committee on Health Care is currently reviewing Senate Bill 442 that would eliminate the current option for parents to opt their school-going children out of state-required vaccines due to religious or philosophical reasons. As it is, Oregon parents who don’t want to vaccinate their children have to obtain a Vaccine Education Certificate so they can opt-out. Parents can either visit their doctor to obtain the certificate, or they can simply watch a video online and print out the certificate at the end of the video. Clearly, that’s not enough because Oregon still ranks as the worst in the nation for immunization rates. And that’s just the state average. The scariest part is that there are schools in Oregon that have greater than a 70 percent non-medical exemption rate. Yes, you read that correctly, that means that less than 30 percent of those kids are vaccinated. If you look at this list you can find your child’s school and see what the non-medical exemption rate is. If it’s greater than six percent, you’re below herd immunity for measles. Mississippi, on the other hand, does not allow non-medical vaccine exemptions and in 2014, only a scant 0.1 percent of Mississippi kindergartners were exempt from vaccinations.
I tried to watch the public hearing held February 18 by the Senate Committee on Health Care. You can watch the whole three-hour saga here if you like. I was unable to stomach the whole thing – it was a dog and pony show. The committee must have thought so, too, because when they got wind that Andrew Wakefield was planning to attend and testify at the March 9 meeting, they changed the meeting to a work session instead of a public hearing and uninvited all speakers. Yes, Andrew Wakefield is the one whose infamous study linking the MMR vaccine to autism was retracted from the journal in which it was published and whose medical license was revoked because his study was found to be fraudulent and unethically financed. While he has been disinvited, he claims he’s still planning to have a town hall in Portland. Let’s send a message to him and to the anti-vax community before the March that we are tired of their anti-science rhetoric and that we won’t stand for it when it comes to protecting our children.
We need this bill to pass so Oregon’s vaccine rates don’t continue to fall. Please contact your representative and let them know you support this bill, and sign my petition to pass SB 442.