Nothing has saved more lives than the advent of widespread immunizations for diseases that used to ravage mankind. Children have especially benefited from vaccines for common and formerly epidemic illnesses like whooping cough, measles, mumps and polio.

But our gains against these scourges are put at risk by rejection of childhood vaccinations by some parents who have been misled by faulty information. The problem of parents opting their kids out of vaccinations is particularly noticeable in our region.

The federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported last week that Washington state has the highest rate of parents refusing at least some mandatory vaccinations for children. Oregon, Idaho, Alaska and Vermont are also among the top five.

Most Western states allow parents to obtain a religious or philosophical waiver to immunization requirements, perhaps a holdover from our libertarian traditions of allowing people to pursue their own paths. Both Washington and Oregon also have a strong progressive tradition, which counter-intuitively leads some parents to reject shots for their kids based on a supposed link between vaccines and higher rates of autism.

But as noted by the plainspoken blogger Goldy in Seattle’s The Stranger, “Vaccines do not cause autism! They just don’t. And there is zero non-fraudulent science to suggest otherwise. But what vaccines are proven to do is save lives and avert unneeded suffering. So get your damn kids vaccinated!”

Nationwide, less than 1 percent of children aren’t immunized at all, but the rate of parent-signed exemptions is 6.2 percent in Washington and 5.4 percent in Oregon. Rates vary widely within the states. In Pacific County, for example, it is 7.7 percent. 

These exemption rates are a crack into which germs can wiggle. The Pacific Northwest has seen episodes of both measles and whooping cough in recent years, illnesses that are almost entirely preventable if everyone gets their shots.

“Being a person in public health, the value of vaccinations and the protection it provides children far outweigh any risk,” said Kathy Spoor, director of Pacific County Public Health and Human Services Department.

“Personally, I feel any time there is an opportunity to prevent an illness, that is better than experiencing the illness,” Spoor told the Aberdeen Daily World. “I don’t care if it’s the flu or chickenpox or pertussis (whooping cough) or hepatitis, I’d much rather get a vaccination and be protected than experience the disease.”

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