Several hundred opponents of a proposal to eliminate non-medical vaccine exemptions for school-aged children rallied outside the Capitol on Tuesday hoping to pressure lawmakers debating House Bill 3063.
The bill is scheduled for a Wednesday hearing in the Ways and Means Joint Subcommittee on Human Services, the first action on the controversial bill since it passed out of the House Committee on Health Care in mid-March.
The bill would get rid of non-medical exemptions to vaccines for children attending public or private school, a change supporters call necessary to protect the public against preventable illnesses. Backers of the bill say it’s needed to prevent even more measles cases in communities with concentrations of unvaccinated children. The measles vaccine, which is highly effective, led the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to declare the disease eradicated in 2000 but now it’s back.
Outbreaks this year sickened more than 70 Clark County children and more than 500 people in New York.
HB 3063 opponents support their case by listing a litany of concerns about medical risks from vaccines, including an increased risk of autism, a claim that’s been widely refuted by medical research.
Opponents on Tuesday decried lawmakers for making medical decisions on behalf of their children. HB 3063 "takes away your ability to provide informed consent when it comes to vaccinations," said Sarah Bacon, executive director of Oregonians for Medical Freedom, which organized the rally -- the second demonstration against the bill in six weeks.
"This issue of maintaining informed consent affects every single citizen across the political spectrum,” Bacon said.
Oregon has the nation's highest rate of children without one or more vaccines due to a non-medical exemption -- 7.5 percent in 2018. In response to the Clark County outbreak, the Washington state Senate last week passed a bill to remove philosophical exemptions for measles, mumps and rubella vaccinations.
Rally speakers painted Oregon's vaccination bill as a case of government overreach, pushed by Oregon lawmakers influenced by pharmaceutical companies.
"All of this to be able to stab a bunch of vaccines into 30,000 kids," said Dr. Paul Thomas, a Beaverton pediatrician and author of a book advocating a looser vaccine schedule than what the CDC recommends. Parents who refuse to vaccinate their children often cite that schedule as threatening to their children.
Speaking at the rally, Thomas claimed studies by the CDC have confirmed a link between vaccines and autism. If Oregon's vaccination bill passes, "We will be forced to harm our children," Thomas said. "HB 3063 makes this harm the law."
But his claims are refuted by the CDC, which has a web page devoted to the issue, saying that “vaccines do not cause autism,” “there is no link between vaccines and autism” and “vaccine ingredients do not cause autism.”
Numerous studies, including one published this month that looked at more than 650,000 children over time, compared those vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella with those who hadn’t had the shot. The study found no increased risk for autism among the children who had been vaccinated.
Nevertheless, opponents are not convinced.
At the rally, several Republican lawmakers spoke against the bill, including Sen. Tim Knopp, R-Bend, who encouraged the crowd to contact their legislators.
"When the government can mandate you to have a medical procedure you don't want, there is no freedom in America, and that's why HB 3063 deserves to be defeated," Knopp said.
Pockets of Republican opposition won't stop the bill if Democrats unite behind it, with their supermajorities in both chambers. If the Ways and Means Joint Subcommittee on Human Services passes it out of committee, HB 3063 would face a full House vote before moving to the Senate.
Some speakers compared opposition to mandatory vaccines to fights against racial and sexual discrimination. Jaclyn Gallion, a board member with the Washington anti-vaccine group Informed Choice Washington, said pharmaceutical lobbyists were buying lawmakers' votes with dinners and campaign contributions.
"This is no longer about vaccines. This is a civil rights matter," Gallion said. "We're done with the government regulating how we care for our children."
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