There’s an outbreak of whooping cough, or pertussis, in Lane County, and it shows once again the problems that arise when parents fail to have their children immunized against certain childhood diseases.
At least a dozen students at Sheldon High School in Eugene have come down with the disease, and another two have been reported at the University of Oregon. Officials do say there’s apparently no link between problems at the high school and the university.
In Lane County, the overall whooping cough vaccination rate is 92 percent. Several schools in the Bend-La Pine Schools district report vaccination rates below 90 percent of student population. Higher rates can better protect the community and especially people who can’t have vaccinations for medical reasons.
One of the major challenges to getting people vaccinated has been misinformation. Much of that can be traced back to a thoroughly debunked “scientific” paper published in England in 1998. Its author, Andrew Wakefield, who lost his license as a result of the study’s problems, was found to have misrepresented or changed the medical histories of the 12 patients in the study that was the basis for his article linking vaccination to autism.
Oregon law makes getting out of vaccination requirements for children particularly easy. One needn’t have a medical reason for avoiding vaccines, though there are sound medical reasons for refusing them for some children. One needn’t even have a religious reason.
Instead, parents need only watch an informational video to avoid vaccinating children.
Schools do have tools they can use, however, to keep kids safe. Obviously, sick children can be required to stay home. But so, too, can well, unvaccinated children who may have been exposed to vaccine-preventable diseases.
Nearly 30 students at Sheldon High, in addition to those with whooping cough, are missing school for three weeks as a result. Knowing that could happen, that a child could miss school that long over a lack of vaccinations, should be reason for legislators to toughen Oregon’s requirements and only allow exemptions for medical reasons.