Editorial: Opting out of public health

Published Mar 20, 2014 at 12:01AM

There’s no good news in a recent news release from Deschutes County noting that six people here became ill with pertussis — whooping cough — in January.

All six were children, three kindergarten-age or older, three younger. One is from Redmond; the remaining five are from Bend. All survived.

They and their families are lucky. So, too, are the other children with whom they had contact. Whooping cough is contagious, and in regions where vaccination rates are low, as they are in Oregon — nearly 6 percent of kindergartners here are unvaccinated, according to the Centers for Disease Control — kids and adults are both at risk.

The problem is worse in Deschutes County, which has a higher percentage of unvaccinated kids than do most counties at 8.1 percent.

Most unvaccinated children have not been immunized because their parents have opted out for nonmedical reasons. But opting out carries with it a risk not only for one’s own children but for those kids whose health prevents vaccination.

It’s still too soon to tell if Oregon’s new law requiring those who choose not to vaccinate for nonmedical reasons to watch a video or talk with their doctor about their decision, will have an impact on vaccination rates here. Washington passed similar legislation a couple of years ago, and officials there have seen vaccination rates improve by as much as 25 percent.

Meanwhile, unless vaccination rates go up rather than down, we can expect to see more children catch and perhaps die of a disease they need not have gotten.