By editorial board • 

Vaccination exemptions pose threat to our most vulnerable

Vaccination against potentially deadly but preventable diseases is not just the right thing to do. It is a moral imperative.

The rallying cry of the anti-vaccination movement is freedom of choice. The problem is, the anti-vaxxers aren’t choosing for just themselves.

They are also choosing for children too young to choose for themselves, both their own and, by extension, everyone else’s; for infants too young to begin a vaccination regimen; for the pregnant and elderly; and for legions of Americans suffering from immune deficiencies, whether through diseases attacking the immune system, treatment for transplant rejection or cancer, or any debilitating health stressor.

In fact, they are choosing for the weakest and most helpless among us. And that is not their right.

All rights afforded us under the U.S. Constitution are subject to balancing against the rights of others. That’s why the right to free speech does not extend to crying fire in a crowded theater, thus threatening the right of others to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness.

The anti-vaxxers are also prone to minimizing the danger posed by childhood diseases like mumps, measles and chicken pox. They argue the best way to establish immunity is by contracting the disease itself.

But one in every 20 child measles cases progresses into pneumonia, which attacks the lungs, and one in every thousand into encephalitis, which affects the brain. Both can prove permanently debilitating, if not fatal. And survivors later in life are subject to contracting a universally fatal central nervous system disease known as subacute sclerosing panencephalitis.

Diphtheria chokes the air supply and threatens the heart, kidneys and nervous system. Survivors can suffer lasting complications, including arthritis, paralysis and brain damage.

It carries an age 1-5 death rate of 20 percent and an overall death rate of 5 to 10 percent. Prior to development of a protective vaccine, it claimed 13,000 to 15,000 deaths a year.

Tetanus, also known as lockjaw, is a potentially fatal bacterial infection that can trigger spasms and convulsions powerful enough to fracture the spine. Pertussis, also known as whooping cough, can cause pneumonia, seizures, brain damage and death.

In addition to resulting in permanent deafness, mumps can morph into meningitis, encephalitis, orchitis or oophoritis. Chicken pox leaves child survivors subject to contracting shingles in adulthood. And virtually everyone on the planet appreciates the elimination of polio, once the nation’s most-feared killer and crippler of children.

When vaccination levels are high enough, they produce a herd immunity serving to minimize outbreaks and prevent epidemics, even though some children remain unvaccinated. But that takes rates of 83 to 94 percent, depending on the disease. And because of laws allowing non-medical exemptions, Oregon, Washington and Yamhill County rates often fall below the requisite threshold.

There is no valid medical or scientific basis for leaving children unvaccinated. And failure to vaccinate poses a clear and present danger for the rest of us.

It is thus incumbent on our legislators to reverse the frivolous and unfounded exemption dodge serving to depress our immunization rates to unsafe levels.


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