That all started changing about a decade ago when a British researcher published a paper linking childhood vaccinations to autism. The author, Andrew Wakefield, claimed that he had studied a group of children who had developed symptoms of autism after being given routine vaccinations. The study has since been thoroughly discredited and Wakefield stripped of his medical license in his native England. Last year, the journal that published his paper, The Lancet, retracted the piece, and almost all of his coauthors have renounced the work. Recently it was reported that Wakefield had actually faked some of his data to support his hypothesis. Of course, all follow up studies and analysis failed to find any information to support Wakefield's assertion. Never mind, though. The damage had been done. Wakefield's bogus studies set off an entire anti-vaccine movement in England and around the globe. In Great Britain, vaccination rates dropped from over 90 percent to below 70 percent in the past decade.
Thanks in part to the endorsement of celebrities like actress and former Playmate model Jenny McCarthy - who, by the way, is not a doctor - Americans, too, jumped on the anti-vaccine bandwagon. Regrettably, Oregon nearly leads the nation in unvaccinated children as a percentage of our population, with 5.2 percent of all kindergartners opting out of vaccinations for non-medical reasons. Of course, children don't opt of vaccinations - their parents do. In Deschutes County, parents are doing so in an alarming number, nearly double the state average, according to the Oregon Health Authority. That makes Deschutes County one of the least vaccinated places in a state that's already at the bottom of the national vaccination statistics.
The recent drop-off in vaccinations has been accompanied by an increase in diseases like measles and whooping cough that have been suppressed or, in some cases nearly, eradicated by vaccines. That's frightening considering these are extremely deadly diseases that still claim hundreds of thousands of lives per year, particularly in less-developed countries.
Parents who opt out of vaccinations would like us to believe that this is a personal choice. And Oregon makes it easy for them to do so by simply checking a religious exemption. But refusing to vaccinate your children for bogus religious reasons is only a step removed from denying your sick child the right to see a doctor. But this isn't just about the government telling us how to parent, vaccines work only when an entire population is vaccinated. That's why the approach has been so effective at keeping these deadly diseases at bay for more than a century. When small groups of people break away, it allows diseases like rubella to re-establish and puts everyone at risk. Of course, Oregon isn't alone. The state of Washington leads the nation in the percentage of unvaccinated children. But Washington is addressing the issue by stiffening its vaccination laws. In the future, Washington parents who want to opt out of shots will need a doctor's signature. Given Oregon's dismal vaccination rates, lawmakers here ought to do the same. In the meantime, we're giving the Boot to parents who duped the state and their neighbors by claiming a bogus exemption based on bogus science.