The email from Joshua Phillips, a naturopathic physician at Hawthorn Healing Arts Center in northwest Bend, came in at 12:42 p.m. on a Tuesday. Subject line: “URGENT.”
“Forced Vaccinations May End Informed Consent and Freedom of Choice,” the subject line went on. Phillips sent the email to patients and fellow practitioners, urging them to write to lawmakers their opposition to banning nonmedical vaccine exemptions for Oregon children.
Such efforts by vaccine opponents seem to have worked. On Wednesday, Senate Bill 442’s chief sponsor, Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, announced she was dropping the bill.
Opposition to the ban was on display at a public hearing before the Senate Committee on Health Care last month, when a Glide mother told committee members her daughter had a violent reaction to a vaccine and was later diagnosed with autism. “I will denounce my citizenship and leave the state, I would leave the country, but they are not vaccinating my child,” she said.
Short of renouncing their citizenship, the ban would have forced Oregon parents to decide between full immunization or pulling their kids out of school. Vaccination requirements apply to public and private schools, preschools, child care facilities and Head Start programs in Oregon. Currently parents can get nonmedical exemptions citing religious or philosophical reasons; since 2014, they have also had to fulfill an education requirement, either with a health care provider or online, about the benefits and risks of vaccines. The relative ease of getting an exemption has led to Oregon racking up the highest nonmedical exemption rate in the country. According to the Oregon Health Authority, last year 7 percent of Oregon kindergartners had nonmedical exemptions. In Deschutes County, the rate was 10 percent.
“A hundred-some cases of measles is by no means a public health crisis in my opinion,” said Phillips, author of the urgent email, referring to the recent outbreak that originated at Disneyland in December. “My guess — it’s just a guess — is that the media coverage about the measles cases has been part of it, and it’s been seen as a wave of opportunity for lawmakers who are fervently against exemptions like Sen. (Steiner) Hayward is.”
The vaccine schedule put out by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Phillips said, is “meant for the herd. It’s not about individual health or well-being.” Some kids have allergies that vaccines may exacerbate, he said, while others would be fine with fewer shots or getting them later in life.
Nonmedical exemption rates at area schools vary, meaning the ban would have hit some school communities harder than others. No school in Crook and Jefferson counties had a rate above 6 percent last year. But in the Bend-La Pine district, two magnet schools in northwest Bend — Amity Creek and Westside Village — had rates of 30 percent or more. At Rimrock Expeditionary Alternative Learning Middle School, a charter school in Bend, the rate was 19 percent.
“It doesn’t totally surprise me,” said Roger White, REALMS’ director. Families typically turn to charter schools because they have certain opinions about education, he said, and the same families may have certain opinions about health care and vaccines.
At Westside Village, Marijane Boyd paused when asked what she would do if her kids couldn’t get nonmedical exemptions. “I honestly don’t know what I would do with that,” she said, suggesting more parents might consider home schooling.
Boyd said her thinking on vaccines has evolved, that she believes the shots don’t always do what they are supposed to. Two of her children got whooping cough after getting the vaccine. Another Westside Village mom said her daughter had a fever of 104 for eight days after a vaccine.
“If I were to do it all again, I would vaccinate my kids less,” Boyd said.
— Reporter: 541-617-7837,