By Nina Mehlhaf
nina SALEM, Ore. — Centuries-old diseases like measles have been making a comeback lately after an outbreak started at Disneyland, and spread to several cases in Oregon and Washington.
But a bill in Salem that would make vaccines mandatory for kids for those types of illnesses, is losing support fast.
Three weeks ago, Senate Bill 442 had strong support and was making quick headway. But now, even supporters admit, the way it’s written now, the bill is at risk of dying in committee before it even gets a vote.
The bill would make it so parents could only opt out or delay vaccines for their children for medical reasons, not for any personal, religious or philosophical exemptions such as are allowed now.
If passed, and a child doesn’t get their mandated shots, no exemption note, other than for a medical reason, would help; they couldn’t go to school. Other than home school, that would leave thousands of kids without their constitutional right to education, and that’s where some politicians are having a hard time with it.
Republican Sen. Chuck Thomsen of Hood River is the co-sponsor of the bipartisan bill and says this week politicians will get together to look at changing that educational component to keep the bill alive and get more support.
Oregon has the highest rate of parents, 7 percent, opting out or delaying shots for non-medical reasons.
Nationally, the median is 1.8-percent.
Thomsen says it’s an emotional issue with a lot of misconceptions, but we need to reverse our trend.
“We gotta keep the number from going up further and I think if we do nothing, it’s going to continue to rise,” he told KGW.
At a rally on the state capitol steps put on by Oregonians for Medical Freedom against the bill, was Portland pediatrican Dr. Paul Thomas.
He told the crowd of several hundred that he’s pro-vaccine, and says public health relies on keeping the vast majority of our population immunized.
But he says families have a right to information to make a choice for themselves, not be mandated by the government.
“This is an assault on our first amendment rights, an assault on our freedom of religion and freedom of speech,” Dr. Thomas told the crowd over microphone. “Medical freedom matters, informed consent matters, civil liberties matter.”
Hospitals though, are pleading with lawmakers to get this legislation passed for the sake of public health. In a letter of support, the Oregon Association of Hospitals and Health Systems wrote “…the science is crystal clear on questions relating to vaccination. Vaccines are safe and effective, a conclusion that is based on decades of research and experience. We know that as the percentage of unvaccinated people grows, so too grows the risk of devastating vaccine-preventable diseases.”