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Oregon allows non-medical exemptions to vaccinations, and those exemptions are on the rise.

Imelda Dacones, MD, is CEO and President of Northwest Permanente.
We need to do better in Oregon.

Before measles was considered eliminated in 2000, the idea of an outbreak struck fear and panic into the hearts of many. The disease can cause a painful rash, pneumonia, brain damage and even death. Further, it destroys the immune system and leaves us vulnerable to potentially fatal secondary infections. Research has shown this effect can last for up to five years, and the consequences of contracting other harmful diseases can stay with us for life.

Most people have never seen these brutal conditions because of the hugely positive impact that immunizations have had on U.S. public health.

Oregon is one of 17 U.S. states that allow non-medical exemptions, which let children skip or delay vaccines for philosophical reasons. And they are on the rise: in 2018, the non-medical exemption rate among Oregonian kindergarteners was 7.5%, up a full point from 6.5 percent in 2017.

However, there is a potential solution on the horizon. House Bill 3063, which was introduced in February, would eliminate non-medical exemptions from the state. This would mean that parents cannot decline or delay vaccinating their child for any reason other than a medical one. If this bipartisan bill were to pass, we would see much better vaccination rates across the state, and we would be less susceptible to preventable disease outbreaks as a result.

There are people who rely on community immunity because they can't be immunized for medical reasons, such as being immunocompromised due to cancer. When people refuse to vaccinate their children for personal reasons, they are putting the most vulnerable among us in real danger. That's why HB 3063 is so important.

Because some Oregonians have chosen not to vaccinate, others must worry about contracting disease when doing ordinary activities like grocery shopping or going to the airport. Measles is one of the most highly contagious viruses on the planet. Once in the air, it can infect the non-immunized for up to two hours and 90 percent of those exposed will contract the disease. Everyday life becomes a gamble when people who are immunocompromised cannot lean on their communities for support.

Numerous studies, including a very recent one, have continually proven that this vaccine does not cause autism.

The current measles outbreaks in Oregon and Southwest Washington were completely avoidable, and people are suffering needlessly due to personal choices that have community-wide effects. The importance and effectiveness of vaccines should really not be up for debate. They are backed by years of research and are one of the most closely tracked public health measures in the world.

We must protect the vulnerable members of our communities by getting immunized ourselves.  It is our duty and moral obligation to protect those who cannot protect themselves, especially when the data supporting the safety of this action is overwhelmingly clear.

We must do better in Oregon.

Imelda Dacones, MD, is CEO and President of Northwest Permanente.


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