By Paul B. McGinnis

Do you have a point you’d like to make or an issue you feel strongly about? Submit a letter to the editor or a guest column.

Oregon House Bill 3063 proposes to close the “philosophical exemption” loophole in our childhood immunization law. The bill has generated several articles and a Bulletin editorial on the subject.

Rep. Jack Zika, R-Redmond, was quoted as saying “My children are vaccinated, and I am vaccinated. … I see the value in vaccinations. But I draw the line with having the state tell parents what to put into their children.” He would oppose HB 3063. I understand the initial reaction about the intrusion of the state in the family, but do not agree with it. Does the same “line” apply to child safety seats being required in vehicles? Or seat belts for adults?

A “private affair” becomes a “public affair” when the decision or action of an individual or group of individuals has a “spillover effect.” The Bulletin editorial referenced a child with tetanus who was not immunized. The cost of the care of that child was over $800,000. The source was the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. What the story did not share was what insurance, if any, the boy was covered under. If the child was on the Oregon Health Plan, the decision to not immunize him had a “spillover effect” to the state General Fund budget running the Medicaid program. We ALL paid for that decision not to immunize. If he was commercially insured the “spillover effect” was to the other members of that health plan by increased premiums. If he was uninsured, the hospital and rehabilitation facilities spread those unpaid costs to other users.

Seat belt laws and child safety seat law were passed because people’s right to choose not to use them ended when their heads went through a windshield and health and auto insurance rates go up for everyone.

There are many other examples of spillover including not being able to do whatever you want with your property. We call it zoning. You can’t keep your house in disrepair and throw trash in the yard until rats come through your neighbor’s yard. Vector control. You can’t dump toxic waste on your land when it gets into the ground water. The federal, state and local governments have the right to intervene to protect the broader “public.”

The four big historical jumps in life expectancy have all been due to public/government health efforts. First was clean water and sewer systems. The second was ensuring a safe food supply. Third was childhood immunizations. And lastly, antibiotics. Water and food are put into the body and are needed to sustain life. Parents put those “into their children.” If you withheld food and water from your child, that would be child abuse and neglect. The Food and Drug Administration’s attempts to make certain what we eat and the medicines we take are indeed what the seller actually claims they are and can do if described as a medicine. The reason a baby’s first birthday is celebrated is because 120 years ago, if you made it to 1 year old, you had a good chance of living a full life. Infant mortality in 1900 was 165 per 1,000 live births. Childhood immunizations wiped out many of the diseases that crippled or killed children before their first birthday. I will not go into how we have abused antibiotics to the point that their effectiveness in treating infections is threatened.

The diseases prevented by immunizations are real, and it is up to all of us in the public to share the responsibility for herd immunity to keep us all safe. These are “public” issues and opting out due to “philosophy” cannot be accepted.

— Paul B. McGinnis lives in Redmond.

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