Oregon lawmakers have tried at least a couple of times to make it more difficult for parents to avoid vaccinating their children, unfortunately with little success.
And while those who support the idea may face an uphill battle this year when the Legislature meets, they must keep trying.
Gov. Kate Brown, along with state Sen. Herman Baertschiger, R-Grants Pass, killed the 2019 effort to save the massive new business tax bill Democrats wanted so badly.
At least 28 Oregonians came down with measles in 2019, in part because at least three travelers passed through the Portland airport when they were ill. The measles is particularly contagious. The virus can live in the air for two hours, infecting those who pass through or touch surfaces that have been contaminated, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
Worse, measles can be a killer. In Samoa in late 2019 an outbreak claimed nearly 80 lives in a country where only 31% of the population had been vaccinated. Herd immunity, which generally prevents measles from spreading much, kicks in only when 93% to 95% of a community is vaccinated. Oregon’s kindergarten vaccination rate is 93%, right on the ragged edge of real problems should an infected child show up at school. The overall vaccination rate for adults and children is only 78 percent.
Meanwhile, Beth Crane, who chairs the Oregon Public Health Association’s policy committee, noted recently in an article for The Oregonian that even without mass outbreaks measles cases cause problems.
A third of those who caught measles here in 2019 spent time in the hospital being treated for serious complications, for one thing. Here’s another: Cancer patients, whose immune systems are often weakened by chemotherapy, are at extra risk for the disease, even if they’d been vaccinated earlier. Crane writes that some 20,000 Oregonians will be diagnosed with cancer this year.
Brown may well hold the key to vaccination legislation in her hand again this year, though she apparently plans to do nothing about the problem, if a statement released Thursday by her press secretary, Charles Boyd, is any indication. “Governor Brown will not be introducing a bill on vaccination during the short February session. However, especially in light of recent outbreaks of measles and other diseases for which effective vaccines exist, she continues to believe vaccination is critically important to the health of all Oregonians, and that parents should make sure their children receive all the vaccinations they need to live healthy lives.”
It’s a disappointing, but probably not unsurprising, stand from the woman elected to lead Oregonians to better things.