OSU students not included in bill banning measles vaccine exemption

Jaycee Kalama, News Contributor

With 74 currently reported cases from a measles outbreak in Washington and four in Oregon, Oregon legislature looks to ban non-medical vaccine exemptions for school children, although this would not affect any of Oregon State University’s hundreds of unvaccinated students, or other Oregon college students.

The Oregon House of Representatives has made a move to crack down on unvaccinated Oregonians by introducing House Bill 3063, which would prevent parents from declining vaccines for their children, except in the case of an indicated medical diagnosis making vaccines dangerous to the child. The bill would allow schools to bar unvaccinated children. However, some Corvallis community members object to citizens losing the option to remain unvaccinated. Similarly, a total of 297 OSU students are currently choosing to use their freedom to remain unvaccinated and have exemption waivers on file, putting them at risk of contracting measles, and House Bill 3063 would not affect their choice. 

Peter Ringo, Corvallis community member, is in favor of continuing vaccine free choice, whether exemptions be for medical reasons or for personal and philosophical beliefs. 

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“My opinion is that it is incredibly restrictive and will do a lot of harm if passed,” Ringo said. “This bill is senseless, myopic and misguided. It is useless, except as a way to punish those who have suffered enough.”

Although not necessarily against vaccines, Ringo is highly critical of them and does not choose to be vaccinated at this time. He prefers to keep his immune system healthy through nutrition, getting adequate sleep and avoiding undue stress.

“It is their choice, and by so choosing, they accept the consequences, as do people who choose to get vaccinated,” Ringo said. “However, I am concerned that people who get vaccinated many times do not seem to be fully informed about the risks they are taking.”

Measles is a highly contagious virus that spreads through the air and can linger for up to two hours in an enclosed area. Nine out of 10 unvaccinated people who are exposed to the virus will contract it, according to the Center for Disease Control. For every 1,000 people who get measles, one to two die.

OSU has nearly 300 students who have chosen to opt out of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine and remain unvaccinated, like Ringo, and the majority of these students have signed non-medical exemption waivers. 

“For many years we have required vaccination against measles. Only about one percent of our students have medical or non-medical exemption against measles,”Jeffrey Mull, medical director of OSU Student Health Services, said. “We actually have a very low rate of exemptions.”

The MMR vaccine is a weakened live virus vaccine. This means after injection, the viruses usually cause a harmless infection in the vaccinated individual with very few, if any, symptoms before they are eliminated from the body. The person’s immune system fights the infection caused by these weakened viruses, and immunity develops, according to the Center for Disease Control.

“All individuals requesting an medical or non-medical vaccine exemption for any of our required vaccines must meet with a nurse or clinician to discuss the implications,” said Mull. “They then need to sign a form indicating that they understand the risks of not being vaccinated and outlining how there could be exclusion from campus in the event of an outbreak.”

One dose of the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine gives a person 93 percent immunity, and a second dose raises that to 97 percent.

Mull, for his part, is in favor of House Bill 3063, and banning non-medical vaccine exemptions overall.

“I am a strong believer in banning non-medical exemptions for vaccines against diseases that affect the general public health,” Mull said. “This would include contagious diseases that are passed from person to person such as measles.”

Dr. Sandra Bean, a former health communications specialist in an infectious disease unit for the CDC, and an OSU alumna who received her Doctorate degree in public health from OSU, has a similar stance on the need for vaccinations not only on campus, but in every community. She spoke out about the need for vaccinations on campus, especially when in close proximity to the measles breakout in Washington. 

“Vaccine exemptions in such a critical time is a very bad idea,” Dr. Bean said. “The measles vaccine is a safe vaccine that has been around for a long time. The side effects of measles can be very serious. In outbreaks, there will be extreme cases of the measles and even deaths, but there has never been a death from the measles vaccine.”

Dr. Bean said measles can make a lot of people sick in the Corvallis community, if it is transmitted to Benton County. She said that the community as a whole needs to especially pay attention to the people who cannot, for medical reasons, get vaccinated. 

For example, anyone who is on chemotherapy, anybody whos immune system is compromised, they cannot get the vaccine. Those individuals rely on the healthy community, being vaccinated and not being sick, to protect them, this is called herd immunity. An immune community protects those who are vulnerable; babies too young to be vaccinated and older individuals, for example. 

However, Ringo sees mandatory vaccination as a threat to bodily autonomy.

“We have the right to accept or reject any medical procedure for any reason, and vaccination is a medical procedure,” Ringo said. 

OSU allows vaccine exemptions under two circumstances. A non-medical exemption is for those who have a system of beliefs, practices, or ethical values which prohibit the use of immunizations. A medical exemption is for people who have had severe allergic reactions to the vaccine in the past, or have immune system deficiencies that put them at risk for contracting the disease through the vaccine.

“There are all sorts of things that we do, as public health professionals, for the health of the community. We make sure that the water is safe, we make sure that we don’t have raw sewage in the streets, we make sure that we don’t have standing pools of water, where mosquitoes can breed,” Dr. Bean said. “It’s a public health step we take when we immunize ourselves, to not only to protect ourselves and our own children, but to protect the communities where we live.”

Mull advises any unimmunized students to make themselves aware of the early signs and symptoms of measles and seek medical advice as soon as the student feels they may be experiencing those signs and symptoms.