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Vaccine choice comes with consequences

Oregon is once again at the forefront of a growing trend. If House Bill 3063 passes the Senate, the state will become the fourth in the country to eliminate religious and philosophical exemptions to mandatory childhood vaccinations, leaving only medical ones certified by a physician.

Resistance to vaccination among parents started out as a frightened reaction to what turned out to be a medical hoax — the claim that vaccines cause autism. Deprived of that argument (although “belief” in the bogus claim still persists despite all evidence to the contrary), vaccine opponents turned to other claims, some equally dubious: that vaccines contain harmful amounts of toxins (not true); that “natural” immunity acquired by contracting a vaccine-preventable disease is superior to vaccination (also not true, and potentially dangerous); and that vaccine manufacturers are largely immune from liability for damages resulting from the vaccines they sell (true, but more on that later).

Those who acknowledge the science but still don’t want to vaccinate their children are now framing the issue as one of individual freedom to choose.

“We’re not anti-vax,” they insist. “We do vaccinate our children, just not on the required schedule and not for all the required diseases.”

They are free to make that choice. No one is holding a gun to their heads and forcing them to vaccinate their children.

But choices, as we teach our children, have consequences. In this case, choosing not to vaccinate means your child may not attend public school, preschool or licensed day care. Parents who opt out of vaccinating may home-school their children or enroll them in online classes.

Opponents of mandatory vaccinations who point to laws protecting pharmaceutical companies from liability are aiming at the wrong target by opposing HB 3063. If vaccine makers should shoulder more responsibility, then address that issue at the national level, through Congress, because the state has no power to change the status quo.

Every medical procedure carries some element of risk. A tiny fraction of children will have adverse reactions to some vaccines. That is unavoidable. But the number of children whose health and even lives could be threatened by an outbreak of serious disease is far larger.

Living in society means agreeing to abide by rules that keep everyone safe. You have the freedom to drive a car, but if you choose to drive on the wrong side of the road, you may be arrested — or injure or kill yourself or someone else.

Unvaccinated children may transmit diseases to children who cannot be vaccinated because of age or because of a medical condition.

You have the right to risk your own child’s health by choosing not to vaccinate. You don’t have the right to endanger other children who don’t have a choice.