As a measles outbreak in southwest Washington continues to grow, hundreds of people, including families, swarmed the Oregon state Capitol to protest a measure making it harder for parents to opt out of school vaccination requirements.
“There is no measles emergency,” said Sarah Bacon during a speech at a protest rally. Bacon is the executive director of Oregonians for Medical Freedom, a grassroots organization that advocates for parents’ freedom to make medical decisions for their children.
More than 70 people, many of them unvaccinated children, have been sickened with measles in Clark County, Washington. In Oregon, six people have been confirmed with measles, a disease the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention considered to be eliminated in 2000.
Doctors and health officials have said that vaccines have been proven safe and effective, and noted that serious vaccine side effects are rare. In a video message last month, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams pleaded with parents to “protect their children by getting them vaccinated,” saying it is the best protection against measles.
The recent outbreak, which has been linked to at least four of the measles cases in Oregon, has fueled lawmakers to tighten the state’s relaxed vaccine exemption policy. That policy allows parents to decline required immunizations for religious, personal or philosophical reasons. The state’s considering a proposal that would require children to receive vaccinations in order to attend school, unless they have a doctor’s note seeking an exemption for medical reasons.
If passed, Oregon would join only three other states in banning nonmedical exemptions for vaccines. Washington state is also considering a similar proposal.
But parents call the measure discriminatory, saying the state shouldn’t hold a child’s education hostage in exchange for receiving vaccines.
Emily Noel is a mother from Albany, Oregon, who said she used to be pro-vaccination but changed her mind after the birth of her son. She said that after talking to her pediatrician and reading scientific studies, she decided that the risks of some vaccines outweigh the benefits.
Her 1-year-old son is partially vaccinated, and under the Oregon bill she would be forced to decide whether to fully vaccinate her son, homeschool him, or leave the state.
While the vaccine debate has sparked pitched debate, Noel stresses that both sides should focus on “what we have in common.”
“What we agree on is that community health is important, children’s health is important,” she said.
Follow Sarah Zimmerman on Twitter at @sarahzimm95 .