MARY REICHARD, HOST: Next up on The World and Everything in It: the debate over vaccinations and states that mandate them.
So far this year, about 1,000 people across half the states contracted measles. The CDC says it’s the biggest measles outbreak in a quarter century.
Each of the 50 states require specific vaccines for school-age children. There are exemptions and they vary.
In some cases, medical exemptions. In other cases, non-medical ones, based on religion or ethical beliefs.
NICK EICHER, HOST: The three states that do not permit non-medical exemptions are California, Mississippi, and West Virginia.
Now, nearly a dozen state assemblies have proposed bills like those.
In Oregon, state lawmakers proposed a vaccine mandate bill that died in the state senate earlier this month. But exemption advocates say the fight there is not over.
WORLD Radio’s Sarah Schweinsberg has the story from Salem, Oregon.
AUDIO: [Sound of Slavic community singing hymns—”All to Jesus I surrender … All to Jesus I freely give]
SARAH SCHWEINSBERG, REPORTER: Two weeks ago, members of Oregon’s Slavic immigrant community gathered to sing hymns of thanksgiving in the state capitol rotunda. They were celebrating the defeat of House Bill 3063.
Julia Gudev is a Slavic immigrant who supports vaccine exemptions. She said this bill jeopardized her community’s right to choose what’s best for its children.
MOTHER: We and or our parents and grandparents escaped religious persecution to come for this country. We were discriminated against… had medical procedures forced on us without our consent… We are deeply concerned… we will be forced to choose between making medical decisions based on our religious convictions or severely limiting our children from educational opportunities.
Gudev and others like her argue the government never has the right to mandate any medical intervention or procedure—including vaccines.
The bill would have removed all non-medical exemptions for children attending public or private school. It also would have made getting medical exemptions more difficult by requiring doctors to sign off on the request annually.
But those who support vaccine mandates argue measles is spreading this year because too many parents choose to exempt their children from vaccines. Nearly eight percent of Oregon kindergartners have claimed at least one vaccine exemption. So far, the state has had 14 measles cases. That’s why most Democrats and a handful of Republicans in Oregon’s state legislature say a vaccine mandate is necessary.
Republican State Representative Cheri Helt co-sponsored the bill.
HELT: We are the state’s leaders. We cannot allow these easily preventable diseases to damage the health of our children when we have the means to safely and effectively stop them.
Republican State Senator Kim Thatcher opposed the legislation. She says the debate over Oregon’s bill and others like it shouldn’t be about whether vaccines are safe. The debate should be over whether the state has the right to mandate any medical intervention—including vaccines.
THATCHER: They could move beyond vaccinations. They can move to say you are not taking care of your child sufficiently. We need to take your child away. I think if they kept going down this path, that could very easily be a future. And not only that with vaccinations, but, anything else, adults, why stop at children?
After Oregon’s vaccine mandate bill passed the state House, it was poised to pass the Democratic controlled state Senate. Democratic Governor Kate Brown said she would sign it.
In a last ditch effort, Senate Republicans staged a walkout to stop the vaccine mandate bill along with several others they opposed. In the end, Democrats agreed to toss out the mandate bill in exchange for a large education funding increase.
Thatcher says the trade-off was worth it.
THATCHER: They’ll be back in future sessions, I’m sure. But we were able to get something.
Bob Snee is a lawyer and vaccine choice advocate with Oregonians for Medical Freedom. He says parents who support vaccine exemptions believe there is a large volume of scientific evidence backing up their choice to skip some or all vaccinations.
But he argues, even if people disagree with those arguments, they should still support everyone’s right to choose.
SNEE: It’s a fundamental right to have our bodily integrity. Now, if we’re not in charge of our own bodies and the government has the right to impose anything on us from a medical standpoint, are we slaves of the state or are we free people?
For WORLD Radio, I’m Sarah Schweinsberg reporting from Salem, Oregon.