A new father
Honorable State Representatives & Governor:
As a father of a 9-week-old child here in Multnomah County, Oregon, I’m writing to you all concerning the recent Measles outbreak. This outbreak of a previously eradicated disease — as of this writing — has fifty-three confirmed cases in Clark County, Washington and four confirmed cases in Multnomah County, Oregon.
In response, our doctors have made clear that — to protect our son — we shouldn’t take him to any location where there are either lots of people or groups of people in confined areas. This not only includes avoiding malls, movie theaters, food courts, playrooms, and larger restaurants but also includes avoiding buses, planes or any airport.
So we keep him at home. However, we also have to carefully screen anyone who wishes to come into our home, turning away anyone who isn’t vaccinated, other children and people who work with children, because those groups may have had recent exposure themselves and carry it into our home. Are we overreacting? No. The science on Measles is clear: it’s highly contagious.
Health officials say the virus is so contagious that if an unvaccinated person walks through a room two hours after someone with measles has left, there’s a 90 percent chance that an unvaccinated person will get the disease. People can spread measles for four days before the rash appears and for four days after.
As a result of this outbreak, we’ve canceled plans to fly out of state to visit my wife’s elderly and ailing aunt who recently suffered a stroke. At this point, we hope she’ll have the chance to meet her new nephew before she dies. The awful situation in which we find ourselves was made exponentially worse when I discovered that this outbreak is being fueled by lax laws in both Washington and Oregon which allow parents to opt-out of vaccinating their children for “personal or philosophical” reasons.
That means this Measles outbreak was 100% avoidable. However, it also means that you — our elected leaders — are directly responsible for addressing it and ensuring that it never happens again. I, therefore, ask you to begin this process now: not tomorrow, not next week, and not when politically expedient for your personal career.
It’s been said that we’re doomed to repeat history unless we learn from it. Well, here’s what we know from recent history:
- There was a measles outbreak in late 2014 which hit Disneyland in Southern California
- That outbreak, which infected 145 people, was caused by parents who failed to immunize their children.
- The California House/Senate crafted a bill to severely restrict vaccine exemption cases and Governor Brown signed that legislation into law on June 30th, 2015 — just SIX MONTHS after the outbreak hit.
- The new CA state law exempts children whose family medical histories lead a physician to recommend against immunization. Which is to say, if there’s a legitimate medical issue, a doctor can advise against immunization and that child can be exempted.
One quote from the California state legislature is particularly important to spotlight and it comes from Richard Pan, the Democratic State Senator from Sacramento and the author of the bill which was signed into law by Governor Jerry Brown:
I couldn’t agree with this quote more: no one has a right to spread a previously “eliminated” and highly contagious disease simply because of “personal choice”. In fact, it’s not a “personal choice” if your decision can infect, maim, or possibly kill others. It’s like smoking on a plane: it affects everyone around you.
As you’re no doubt aware, Jay Insley, the Governor of WA, declared a State of Emergency as a result of this most recent Measles outbreak. As of February 8th, you’ve not even mentioned the outbreak in your official press releases. While your recent comments about the outbreak at a public forum in Bend are a great start, much more attention to this matter is needed. I challenge you to declare a similar State of Emergency here in Oregon before more Oregonians become ill or suffer from the permanent damage that Measles can cause. I should hope, as a Progressive politician, that you’d prioritize two things:
- The regular and loud championing of science-backed, peer-reviewed data.
- The need for public health legislation based on that data so that it can move through the Oregon State Congress as quickly as it did in the state of California after their comparable outbreak.
Governor, please announce that you’ll support and champion a bill which prevents parents from opting out of vaccinating their children for philosophical or personal reasons. Then, for the sake of The Public’s health and safety: Don’t. Stop. Talking. About. It.
Senator Steiner-Hayward & Representative Helm:
Your counterparts in Washington are now acting. Legislators there are now proposing a bill preventing parents from opting out of vaccinating their children for “philosophical or personal reasons”. As you two are my direct representatives in the state congress, I took the time to speak with staffers at your offices on Friday, February 9th. During those calls, I learned that both of you would support legislation similar to the kind passed in California. While that’s great, in theory, I also learned that neither of you can — or will — sponsor or co-sponsor this kind of legislation.
That’s not only unacceptable, but it’s also alarming.
Senator Heyward, I see that you actually tried to pass such legislation in 2015, so I know that your heart, mind, and education are aligned. But — and I can’t believe I’m reading this — it appears that you backed off from supporting your own bill, Senate Bill 442. You did this when misguided and ignorant parents who valued “personal choice” pressured you and other legislators to continue allowing parents to opt out of immunizing their own children. Their efforts, apparently, succeeded. Wow.
I’ll put this bluntly, Senator:
Your caving to people who don’t believe in science means that this current outbreak rests squarely on your shoulders. That includes new babies, like our son, who might now become infected, ill, or suffer lifelong, permanent damage as a result of not being immunizied.
You were elected to lead, Senator, not to back down from leading when people who prefer conspiracies to real science organize and get a little loud. Who cares if they’re loud, Senator?!? Real leadership means rallying your base, your co-sponsors, and your fellow legislators to push back against ignorance, fear, and dangerous conspiracy theories. It means providing others with validated, peer-reviewed data from top scientists so they can continue to support you and your leadership. While I trust that you know all about the science, I want to make it easy for you to lead, Senator, so here’s a handy infographic with all of its sources listed. Simply provide this overview to your constituents and fellow legislators who aren’t as well-informed as you:
Remind them that there isn’t a single peer-reviewed study — literally, not one — from any scientist in any country which has been published in any noteworthy medical or science journal proving that the MMR vaccine (which had eradicated Measles prior to today) is dangerous, toxic, or causes autism. In fact, the opposite is true: there is a mountain of peer-reviewed data which verifiably and repeatedly demonstrates that Measles is preventable with a safe vaccine that causes no autism.
The reality of the world in which we live is that some folks are just stupid: they deny that The Holocaust was real, they deny that we landed men on the Moon, they boldly believe that the Earth is flat and, as you’ve learned, they believe that vaccines are dangerous.
Let them be stupid, Senator. Our job — yours and mine — is to craft legislation despite their shocking and dangerous stupidity. Therefore, When you announce that you’re once again sponsoring a bill to protect The Public’s health, you’ll no doubt be confronted with anger, misinformation, and outright lies. Expect that, plan a strategy for it and have a crack team of folks standing by to help you educate The Public and your fellow legislators. I’ll be on that team if you ask.
Senator, you said back in 2015 that you “try to blend idealism with pragmatism as a legislator”. Well, I can’t think of anything more pragmatic than protecting The Public’s health. Conversely, I can’t think of anything less pragmatic and more damaging to an elected official than not committing — boldly, enthusiastically — to doing the same. Senator: the state, the nation, and the world are all watching. The time for parsing words and equivocating has passed. There’s a health crisis on our front doorstep and now’s the time for clear, strong, action.
Governor Brown, Senator Steiner-Heyward, & Representative Helm: I trust that if any of you want my vote in the next election cycle you’ll now work — as if your career and the lives of innocents depended on it — to protect The Public’s health from the dangers of both disease and ignorance.
I, for one, will join you in that challenge and help you rally to get commonsense legislation passed.