A well-known anti-vaccination enclave near Portland, Oregon, is now facing a measles epidemic, an outcome that was as predictable as the sunset. It's the result of high numbers of families in the area taking advantage of available exemptions to school vaccination requirements based on philosophical objections.
The "philosophy" is generally one of buying into dire but thoroughly discredited myths about vaccines. Trends in some states toward further loosening school vaccination requirements are going in exactly the wrong direction. When is America going to stop appeasing the scientifically bogus, increasingly dangerous anti-vaccination movement?
As The Washington Post reports, officials in Clark County, Washington, recently declared a public health emergency after seeing more than 20 confirmed cases of measles within a week, mostly among children whose parents declined to have them immunized. The region, near Portland, has long been known and dreaded by medical professionals as an anti-vaccination "hotspot."
"This is a self-inflicted wound," said one.
Measles is one of the most contagious diseases known and is more dangerous than Americans often understand — in large part because vaccine-based containment here has been so successful over the years. But it remains a serious, potentially fatal illness, one that can be contracted by merely entering a room where an infected person has recently been.
Because of measles' highly contagious nature, vaccination rates of more than 90 percent of a given population are necessary to effectively contain it. Parents who opt out of those vaccinations for their kids aren't just indulging their own anti-science beliefs but are endangering other people's children.
That's why vaccination is required before children can attend public schools in virtually all U.S. jurisdictions. Exemptions are always allowed for the relatively rare instances where there are legitimate medical reasons a child can't be vaccinated. Most states also allow religious exemptions — not a great situation, but one based on understandable constitutional interpretations.
Then there are the 18 states, Washington and Oregon among them, that allow parents to opt out of school vaccinations based on generic "philosophy" or "personal beliefs," which fall far short of the constitutional religious exception. This standard allows parents to skip vaccinating their school-bound kids based on virtually anything — or nothing — making the school vaccination requirement meaningless.
School health requirements are always a balancing act between the public interest and parental rights. Those rights shouldn't be taken lightly. But the science on vaccinations is so solid, the societal implications so huge and the anti-vaccination movement so meritless that debating it is like debating flat-Earth theory. Or would be if flat-earth theory had life-and-death implications.
School vaccination policies should have legitimate medical and constitutional foundations. Carving out exemptions for people who simply refuse to believe medical facts shouldn't be part of the equation.
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