The Internet has flooded us with information, but it doesn’t always help us distinguish the valuable from the misleading. In health care, one disturbing result is the low rate of immunization among our children.
Legislation pending in Salem would attempt to assure that parents have accurate information, and it deserves support.
The problem is acute in Bend, where several schools have so many unimmunized children that they’re at risk for outbreaks of diseases that have become rare, as reporter Heidi Hagemeier detailed Thursday in The Bulletin’s Health section. Statewide, more kindergartners lack immunizations than anywhere else in the nation.
Despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary, the notion that vaccines cause more harm than good has taken hold among a group of parents, prompting them to take advantage of Oregon’s relatively lax process to gain exemption from immunization requirements.
The risk is not just an abstraction. Already, reports show a resurgence of measles and pertussis, also known as whooping cough. And low rates of immunization mean that so-called herd immunity — where high rates of vaccination prevent the spread of disease — is being lost. Whooping cough can be fatal to infants too young to be immunized, but herd immunity can protect them.
Current Oregon law allows students to attend school without vaccinations if parents sign a form stating they have a religious objection, no details required. The proposed legislation would remove the religious reference and add an education component. Parents would need to complete an online education program or get a physician signature. They could then exempt their children by signing a form.
The idea, say supporters of the bill, is to be sure parents base their decision on accurate information. Lake Oswego pediatrician Jay Rosenbloom, who has worked on the proposal, said some parents won’t vaccinate their children no matter what, but others could be swayed by valid science.
He said a blanket ban on unvaccinated children in school could be seen as violating civil rights and lead to challenges. The hope is that education will increase rates enough to preserve or re-establish the protections of herd immunity.
Ann Stone, executive director of the Oregon Pediatric Society, said similar legislation enacted in Washington state in 2011 reduced immunization exemptions by 25 percent the following year.
That’s good evidence and clearly supports giving this approach a try. Legislators should be ready, though, to go further if this method doesn’t make a sufficient difference.