Hillsboro Tribune
By the Editorial Board
March 6, 2015

Last week, Gov. Kate Brown said Oregon needs to have “a broader discussion” about the death penalty and the criminal justice system.

We believe the same approach also needs to be taken with the issue of vaccinations in Oregon.

Currently, 7 percent of Oregon’s kindergarten students go without vaccinations due to nonmedical exemptions — that is, exemptions based on religious or philosophical reasons — which gives us the inauspicious rank of first in the nation.

That, however, may change this year. As the Pamplin Media Group’s Jennifer Anderson recently reported, under new rules adopted by the Oregon Legislature, those seeking a nonmedical exemption now have to earn a “vaccination certificate” by either watching an hour-long vaccine education video, or by talking to a health care practitioner.

It remains to be seen if Oregon’s new, stricter rules will result in fewer vaccination exemptions.

With the recent outbreak of measles across the country — and last week’s death of an unvaccinated toddler in Germany — the topic of vaccinations increasingly commands our attention.

A measles outbreak at Disneyland in December has now grown to 150 reported cases in several states, including Oregon.

The more children are unvaccinated in schools, the more it weakens the “herd immunity,” making vulnerable populations such as pregnant women, infants or the medically fragile more susceptible to highly infectious diseases.

Large numbers of Oregonians consider vaccinations a choice, rather than something that should be mandated. That is the exact opposite of the intent of state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-Portland), who has authored a bill that would eliminate the nonmedical exemption, an effort similar to others being pursued in 11 other states.

We applaud Hayward’s action, at least for the public dialogue it’s generating. But the fear of disease outbreak is hardly the whole story.

The controversy was evident in Salem Feb. 19, when testimony on Hayward’s bill lasted for more than three hours. There was impassioned testimony from public health officials, as well as experts of all types and families with children who suffered from severe reactions to vaccines, which they contend led to autism and other conditions.

In Oregon, medical exemptions can be granted for a variety of reasons, including having a compromised immune system. But the most common qualification for receiving a medical exemption is a previous severe allergic reaction to a vaccine, which could be after the harm has occurred.

The medical establishment insists vaccines are safe. If that’s the case, then why has Congress exempted vaccine manufacturers from civil lawsuits? Why has Congress created the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program to compensate people — including children — who have been injured by vaccines?

In fiscal 2014, the special “vaccine court” in Washington, D.C., ordered $202 million be paid to 365 victims to compensate for vaccine-related injuries. Those are grounds for real concern that public health officials need to address, rather than sweep under the rug.

This is not a black and white debate, but one that touches on personal freedom, public health, individual rights and the greater societal good.

The discussion will continue at an information hearing set for March 9 in Salem to address the constitutionality of Sen. Hayward’s bill.

As educated constituents, we deserve a broader public discussion on the full truth about vaccines, not just the “safe, cheap and highly effective” claims the public health officials continuously make.