My first thought upon hearing about the current measles outbreak in the Pacific Northwest was to wonder if Washington and Oregon are among the 18 states that allow parents to get waivers for their kids’ mandatory school vaccinations on account of their personal beliefs. The outbreak has sickened at least 35 people so far around Vancouver, Wash., and Portland, Ore.
You may recall that California allowed such exemptions until just a few years ago. A serious outbreak at Disneyland in 2014 woke lawmakers to the fact that the “personal belief” exemption had been allowing childhood immunization rates to decline to dangerous levels. They ended that exemption not long after and vaccination rates quickly started rising to safer levels. Phew.
And, yup, turns out that both Washington and Oregon have laws that allow parents to opt out of the vaccination requirement if they have a philosophical or religious objection. Most of the kids sickened had not receive the vaccination for measles, mumps and rubella that is a standard requirement for kids entering public school.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency Friday.
It’s an emergency, all right — of idiocy perpetrated by a few loud but uninformed voices who have scared parents into thinking that the medicine that will keep their kids safe will instead hurt them. There is no scientific evidence to support this fear, while the evidence grows steadily that allowing people to opt out of vaccinations for no good reason has real harmful consequences.
Health officials link anti-vaxx fears to outbreaks last year in New York and Europe. With vaccination rates dropping in states with lax vaccination laws, there is bound to be another one. That’s a real and even deadly threat not just to kids whose parents oppose vaccinations, but also to kids who for valid medical reasons can’t be vaccinated and for babies who are too young to be inoculated.
Washington lawmakers have responded appropriately by introducing a bill that would end the personal belief exemption. If they aren’t doing so already, Oregon legislators should do the same.