Let’s hear it for state Rep. Mitch Greenlick, the Portland Democrat who apparently has the fortitude to take on the vocal anti-vaccine crowd when few else will.
Greenlick, who has spent his career in public health, knows the dangers that lurk when too many families refuse to vaccinate their kids. In the wake of the current measles outbreak in Clark County, Washington, he wants Oregon lawmakers to do something about preventing further problems here. He’s preparing legislation that would do away with this state’s philosophical exemption from immunization for school-aged children, leaving only the exemption for medical reasons. The bill’s language is still being finalized.
He’s right to worry. The Vancouver outbreak so far has sickened some 53 people in Clark County. The vast majority, 38 of those infected, are between the ages of 1 and 10; another 13 range in age from 11 to 18, and two are adults. According to the Clark County Public Health website, at least 47 of the 53 were unvaccinated.
Closer to home, four cases of measles in Multnomah County can be traced to the Washington outbreak.
If things go well, Greenlick will have better luck in 2019 than Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, did when she offered similar legislation in 2015. Steiner Hayward, a family physician, withdrew her legislation in the wake of vocal and heated opposition. Meanwhile, Oregon and Washington have among the lowest vaccination rates in the country. The problem here and elsewhere is bad enough that the World Health Organization lists what it calls vaccine hesitancy as one of the 10 most serious threats to worldwide public health.
California, after a major measles outbreak in 2015, did do away with its personal exemption, and Washington is on the way to greater limits on the exemption in that state. Oregon shouldn’t need an outbreak to push it into similar action. Rather, lawmakers should look to the experts in their own midst and do away with this state’s philosophical exemption.