About a hundred people marched Saturday through downtown Bend to oppose a state bill that would bar children from public and private schools if they are not immunized.
If approved, House Bill 3063 — co-sponsored by Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend — would only allow students to opt out of vaccines if they have a doctor’s note acceptable to local heath authorities that exempts them for medical reasons.
Participants at Bend’s Educational Rally for Medical Freedom, which started at Drake Park and made its way through downtown Bend, worry the bill would give the government too much power over a personal decision to vaccinate children.
People held signs at the march with slogans such as “My body, my choice,” “When there is a risk, there must be a choice” and “Parents should call the shots.”
Bend resident Joshua Reynvaan came to the march with his wife, Mandy, and their five children, ages 8 years old to 6 months old.
Reynvaan said his main concern is how the bill limits options for families and sets a precedent that could make more types of vaccines required.
“The idea that the government can say what you can or can’t do, everybody should be upset about that,” Reynvaan said. “That would bother anyone. At least I hope so.”
Reynvaan does not vaccinate his children and questions the safety and effectiveness of vaccines. He also questions the science behind the benefits of vaccines.
“Are we really educated as to what we are putting in our bodies? The answer is no,” he said. “People argue from a place of science. But it’s definitely a pseudoscience.”
Public health officials across the country, however, have said vaccines are the best protection there is against preventable diseases.
Jill Johnson, immunization program coordinator for Deschutes County Health Services, said Friday the recent resurgence of the measles in Washington state highlights the need for a high vaccination rate in the local community. For measles, a community needs 95 percent of the population vaccinated in order to keep it from spreading, Johnson said.
“It’s important we have a high enough rate in our community to keep those diseases at bay,” she said.
Johnson also points to the importance of the whooping cough vaccination. Whooping cough cases are reported every year in Deschutes County. It can be especially difficult on babies.
Half of infants who contract whooping cough have to be hospitalized, Johnson said.
Overall, Johnson said, there is a lot of misinformation that contributes to the misconceptions and concerns over vaccines. People should be sure their information sources are reliable and based on scientific evidence, she said.
Helt, who continues to advocate for the passage of House Bill 3063, released a statement Saturday to address concerns about the bill.
Through amendments, the scope has been limited to only currently required vaccines in Oregon; students without vaccines would be able to attend school online. In addition, implementation of the bill would be delayed until Aug. 1, 2020.
The bill originally would have kicked in for the school year starting in the fall.
For some at the march, the amendments are not enough.
“All of them still rob us of our rights and our freedom to choose,” said Chelsea Huttinga, a mother of eight children from Culver.
Huttinga said the goal of the march was to support parental, educational and religious rights as well as medical freedom.
“Hopefully, people in our government will hear us and give some consideration to our concerns,” she said.
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