Scott Gibson: Oregon duty-bound to tighten vaccination law


In recent weeks, the Pacific Northwest has confirmed some 70 cases of measles, a disease declared eliminated from circulation in the United States in 2000. For this dangerous outbreak, we can thank parents with an unfounded fear of vaccines and laws in Oregon and Washington that allow parents to exempt their children from vaccination for “philosophical” reasons.

Guest Writer

Scott Gibson recently celebrated his 30th year practicing medicine in his hometown of McMinnville. He and his wife, Melody, live in a new bed and breakfast inn they opened near Amity. Scott’s avocations are writing, landscape photography and learning new stuff, most notably the finer points of photosynthesis. He is up to date on all his shots.

The anti-vaccination movement has a wide following in the Northwest. In Clark County, Washington, epicenter of the current outbreak, almost one-fourth of school-age children have not been vaccinated for measles, mumps or rubella. And Oregon’s unvaccinated rate for kindergartners is 7.5 percent, highest in the nation.

Resistance to vaccination has been an issue from the outset.

The first effective tool for combating smallpox was inoculation. Fluid from a smallpox victim was placed in a small scratch on the arm, causing a local outbreak of blisters that served to create lifelong immunity.

In 1721, an outbreak of smallpox in Boston claimed the life of 850 of the city’s 11,000 residents. Two physicians inoculated anyone who wanted to try the new method, which served to lower the death rate for those treated by a factor of seven.

In spite of this medical triumph, however, the physicians were opposed by pastors, civic leaders and even the newspaper of James Franklin, brother of Benjamin Franklin.

Later, Edward Jenner, a British physician, began using fluid from cowpox to inoculate patients against smallpox, thus creating the first “vaccine.” The term is derived from the Latin term for cow, which as “vacca.”

By vaccinating thousands of patients and keeping meticulous records, Jenner proved the effectiveness of his vaccine. So successful was he that smallpox was declared globally eradicated in 1980, following a massive worldwide vaccination program.

One would assume such well-demonstrated effectiveness would prove persuasive for everyone, but that’s not the case. There have always been opponents to vaccination.

The Supreme Court weighed in on the subject in Jacobson v. Massachusetts, a 1905case in which Cambridge pastor Henning Jacobson refused vaccination for himself or his children and was fined accordingly.

The court held that the government does have the authority to compel vaccination “for the protection of the public health and public safety.” And in 1921, it followed up in Zucht v. King by affirming that unvaccinated children can be excluded from school.

Of all the tools available to medical science for the prevention of disease, none is more potent than vaccination.

Vaccines eliminated smallpox, which for centuries killed more than 10 percent of Europeans. They have nearly extinguished polio, a disease so feared that when the first vaccine was made available for clinical trial, more than a million American parents begged for their children to be included. They have gone on to make diseases like mumps, rubella, diphtheria, pertussis and, yes, measles, fade from modern experience.

However, to some degree, vaccines have fallen victim to their own success. Diseases like measles, mumps, tetanus and diphtheria have become so rare it gives people the luxury of disregarding the disease and focusing on vaccination side effects, sometime real but more often imagined.

Polio is no longer a terror. Few doctors have ever treated a case of tetanus or diphtheria. As a result, to some people, vaccines seem more an intrusion than salvation.

But the current outbreak of measles shows how quickly these diseases can re-emerge.We are only as safe as our level of vaccination keeps us.  If that level drops below 93 percent, studies tell us, we are susceptible to epidemics.

Parents who do not vaccinate put their children at risk, which is morally negligent. They also put at risk babies too young for vaccines and children and adults who cannot be vaccinated because of diseases like cancer or immune disorders, which is unconscionable.

Vaccination is not just a personal decision. Other lives are at risk. As the Supreme Court stated, vaccinations are a matter of “public health and public safety.”

The anti-vaxxers scoff at the Everest of evidence in favor of vaccines and harken to charlatans spreading lies and blatherskite.

Autism, mercury poisoning and immune system overload are just some of the specious arguments debunked by well-conducted scientific studies.  But these studies don’t seem to matter to the reality-deniers among us.

Some who do not vaccinate are simply misinformed. But a core of anti-vaxxers, especially the most vocal, are what some call “unpersuadables.”

Such individuals are beyond any argument, no matter how compelling. The more legitimate the evidence against their position, the more entrenched they become.

It’s important to note, however, that anti-vaxxers rarely, if ever, call for everyone to avoid vaccines. In truth, they want to live under the dome of protection afforded them by the widespread vaccination of others.

They rely on herd immunity to protect their children so they can self-righteously raise the banner of individual choice for themselves. They certainly aren’t marching on the Legislature demanding the return of polio.

We, as a society, cannot let those who sneer at science threaten the health and safety of our children.

If someone builds a fire during the dry season, and it spreads to the neighborhood, that person faces civil and possibly criminal liability. Shouldn’t a parent who refuses vaccines, and thereby spreads measles to an infant, be judged culpable as well?

If a child loses his hearing to measles-induced encephalitis, I think those who allowed the disease to spread should be held accountable.  

Beyond the danger epidemics pose, there is the cost. Tens of thousands of taxpayer dollars are spent containing each new preventable outbreak, all in order to coddle the minority of nervous parents who close their eyes to the reality that vaccines save lives.

It’s the duty of government to protect the vulnerable, not cater to conspiracy theorists. So we need much stronger laws.

People may remain unpersuadable, but if they face liability for the damage they cause by failing to vaccinate, their perspective will change.

Laws matter. Consequences focus the mind. 

The 2019 Legislature must strengthen Oregon’s vaccination laws. If it does not, its reputation will be as shame-speckled as a case of measles.




Thank you Dr. Gibson. Very informative and very spot on. A "sorry" for those who wish to exclude themselves to a person being immune comprised is just not good enough.


Traffic patterns work when we follow the rules and are considerate of our own and other's safety. When someone strays from the rules, lives are put at risk. It really shouldn't be that difficult to follow rules. Be considerate and vaccinate, or get fined or be forced to carry insurance that will cover others for your mistakes.


Thank you very much Dr.Gibson,very well stated .Hopefully,we can all learn from this event.


Ignoring science is all the rage these days. On many disparate — and politicized — fronts, earnest but myopic people arm themselves with opinions presented as fact, choosing to lead lifestyles contrary to the common good. What outrageous luxury.

In the land of the free, you may join whatever weird anti-science movement you wish, raising your children accordingly. But, bluntly, if you embrace a philosophy putting others at risk, you need to stay home. Your kids must be homeschooled. You cannot dine at restaurants. No sporting events. No trips to the park. No shopping. No theaters or cinemas. No worshiping at church. Not even once. Not ever. Nothing — just stay home. Always. Every day. Just stay home.

If you’re a longtime member of such a movement, you likely have friends who agree with you. Consider building a walled compound in which you and your like-minded acquaintances can live in unvaccinated bliss.

You are free to embrace any philosophy you like but you are not free to put me or my family at risk of disease because you reject firmly established research conducted over two centuries. Thinking you’re entitled to lead a normal communal life while you simultaneously put responsible people at risk because of your beliefs demonstrates a staggering level of selfishness.


Trafik, for once we agree we should respect science by reject abortion. Vaccines are made with fetal cells as per their own bottle.Pro Abortion folks hate science and are greatly embraced by fringe but are the first to force vaccines on people.


"We should respect science by reject abortion." "Greatly embraced by fringe."
What do your deranged comments mean?


actionjax - It's hard to take anything you say seriously when you use terms like "pro abortion." You must be "pro government mandated birth." See how stupid that sounds.


How is the view from the moral high ground? From Dr Gibson’s comments while waiting for my vaccinations in the good Dr’s waiting room I should be able to hold someone liable if I catch a cold and miss several days of work, God forbid it turns into bronchitis or pneumonia. Would I be able to hold Dr Gibson liable? I have my doubts.
The comments at the end of the well written article states that “laws matter, consequences focus the mind”. Would he be talking about our immigration laws that are ignored in this sanctuary state? Would the consequences he is talking about be the diseases brought by unchecked immigration? Or would the consequences be crimes committed by and victims created by illegal immigrants in our state and nation? Maybe the consequences are the heroine and fentynal that cross our southern border pushing our opioid crisis over the edge. I only mention these because, after all, laws matter.
And it’s fun to be lectured about science from a liberal class that believes that there are more than two genders.
And I’m quite sure the 2019 legislative session will be a shame, speckled with the measles or not.
And in case you are wondering, my grown children are up to date on vaccinations.