By editorial board • 

Ongoing vaccination coverage proves need for more education

The debate over childhood vaccinations shows no sign of slowing. While a head-scratching majority and vocal minority continue the discourse, however, we’ll continue to support measures erring on the side of public health and education.

The county health department fulfilled one core duty last week — preventing outbreaks of dangerous disease — when it ordered exclusion of five apparently unvaccinated students from Yamhill-Carlton Intermediate School after a student there contracted a potentially fatal infection.

The department and school district both moved expeditiously, and we are happy to learn all five are now back in school. Special accommodations had been made to limit educational interruptions, including a video link, but will no longer be necessary.

There’s no perfect answer in such scenarios, but we should always err on the side of protecting the public, particularly its more vulnerable members.

We aren’t alone in grappling with this issue. In Spokane, hundreds of students were recently excluded for failure to document either vaccinations or exemptions. Meanwhile, debate burns in numerous state capitals over what manner of exemptions to offer for whom. 

A bill introduced in the Oregon Senate earlier this year by Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, a physician, sought to eliminate exemptions for religious and philosophical reasons. It fell victim to parental outcry, but she has introduced an alternative, building on 2013 legislation requiring people seeking non-medical exemptions to first view an educational video or participate in an educational session with a physician.

Critics say the new bill is unnecessary because the 2013 legislation, which went into effect in March, is working. They note Oregon’s once nation-leading 7 percent non-medical exemption rate has dropped to 5.8 percent.

On the contrary. The decrease proves that with proper education, minds can be changed.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. recently compared causing autism by administering unsafe vaccines to the Holocaust, even though the alleged autism and vaccination linkage has been debunked many times over. Some anti-vaxxers have even suggested watching a child suffer from autism is worse than watching one die of a deadly disease, an astoundingly misguided train of thinking.

Steiner Hayward’s current bill would eliminate the video option, forcing exemption seekers to meet one-on-one with a medical professional. It would also extend the requirement to exemptions for all students, not just kindergartners.

We hate to see potentially dangerous decisions based on Internet-age rhetoric. As long as proper education is provided, we are willing to scratch our heads and accept a parental wish for a non-medical exemption.


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