Regarding effectiveness: If you deny that immunization programs are the reason why deadly contagious diseases like smallpox and polio no longer plague us, then nothing distinguishes your mindset from that of people who deny climate change and evolution.
Regarding focus: If you object to Oregon’s immunization requirements, you need to know what they are. The required immunizations are against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, measles, mumps, German measles, chicken pox, hepatitis A and hepatitis B. Additionally, children entering preschool, Head Start or licensed child care programs must be immunized against Haemophilus influenzae, which can cause meningitis and pneumonia in small children. That’s the lot. Objections to other vaccines are not relevant to the current policy debate.
Regarding safety of the relevant vaccines: The most recent of them, for hepatitis A, was introduced in 1991. The chicken pox vaccine came into use in 1984 and the hepatitis B vaccine in 1981. The dates for the others range from 1923 to 1977. So, for almost all these vaccines there are decades of longitudinal data on the responses of hundreds of millions of users. There will be no new revelations of widespread grievous injuries from them. A certain percentage of the population have medical conditions counter-indicative for vaccinations. These are the children every state exempts for medical reasons.
Regarding public implications of refusing on non-medical grounds: Kant’s categorical imperative says, take an action only if you would want it to be a general rule of conduct. If everyone refuses to be vaccinated, these terrible diseases will certainly return. By their example alone, anti-vaxxers threaten universal harm. But many anti-vaxxers go farther; they want to dissuade everyone from getting vaccinated. Thus, in the current Oregon legislative session, they are pushing SB 649, a bill which would require doctors to give patients the Centers for Disease Control’s excipient list for each vaccine. Many of those “ingredients” aren’t actually in the vaccines but are culture mediums. Further, the list doesn’t indicate the amount of such ingredients, and few of us know how much of such substances are harmful. For instance, the human body produces far more formaldehyde than is in vaccines. The intent of SB 649 is to confuse and frighten people into refusing vaccines. I regret that Sen. Jeff Golden is listed as a sponsor of the bill, because I know his public denial of being an anti-vaxxer is true.
Regarding law vs. education: A false dichotomy. The law is the most powerful educator. When I was a boy in New Orleans, the law taught us that blacks were inferior to whites. When the law changed and forced us to change our behavior, our attitudes changed. Not immediately and not everyone’s, but never believe that racial attitudes in the South today are the same as in 1954. The changes have been enormous.
Regarding more disaffected people: It’s true that removing legal exemptions “for personal and philosophical reasons” will alienate people, and some will pull their children from public schools. That’s been true of teaching evolution. Not in Ashland but in many parts of the country, people have chosen home schooling or religious schools for that reason. The concern is meaningful, but when the stakes are high, it shouldn’t be determinative. Frankly, if I were the parent of a child who for medical reasons could not be immunized, I wouldn’t send her to school in Ashland.
Herb Rothschild’s column appears in the Daily Tidings every Saturday.