Philosophical exemptions

This big measles outbreak down on the border with Oregon is a dangerous thing.

Almost a quarter of kids in Clark County, Wash., a suburb of Portland, Ore., go to school without measles, mumps and rubella immunizations, and Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) recently declared a state of emergency amid concern that things could rapidly spin out of control.

Measles outbreaks have sprung up in nine other states this winter, but officials are particularly alarmed about the one in Clark County because of its potential to go very big, very quickly.

The Pacific Northwest is home to some of the nation’s most vocal and organized anti-vaccination activists. That movement has helped drive down child immunizations in Washington, as well as in neighboring Oregon and Idaho, to some of the lowest rates in the country, with as many as 10.5 percent of kindergartners statewide in Idaho unvaccinated for measles. That is almost double the median rate nationally.

And why? Because too many people are too damn gullible and feckless, that’s why.

Libertarian-leaning lawmakers, meanwhile, have bowed to public pressure to relax state laws to exempt virtually any child from state vaccination requirements whose parents object. Three states allow only medical exemptions; most others also permit religious exemptions. And 17, including Washington, Oregon and Idaho, allow what they call “philosophical” exemptions, meaning virtually anyone can opt out of the requirements.

Liberty! Liberty to spread lethal epidemics for no good reason! That is our Liberty Libertarian Philosophy!

“You know what keeps me up at night?” said Clark County Public Health Director Alan Melnick. “Measles is exquisitely contagious. If you have an under-vaccinated population, and you introduce a measles case into that population, it will take off like a wildfire.”

It will be just like the 14th century; what fun.

Measles, which remains endemic in many parts of the world, generally returns to the United States when infected travelers bring the disease back to pockets of the countrywhere some parents have chosen not to vaccinate their children. When immunization rates fall below a certain threshold, outbreaks can occur; pregnant women, young children and people with compromised immune systems who can’t get vaccinated are especially at risk. Last year, 349 cases were confirmed across 26 states and the District of Columbia, the second highest total since the disease was declared eliminated from the United States in 2000, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Since October, an outbreak in New York’s Orthodox Jewish community has sickened 209 people. In the first month of 2019, 10 states, including New York and Washington, have reported cases, all signs of a resurgence of a disease that is entirely preventable with a vaccine that authorities say is safe and effective.

Yes but preventing it is kind of decadent and effete, don’t you think? Life should be more of a struggle than that.

[Officials are] encouraging parents to vaccinate their kids if they haven’t already, and are pushing back against rumors and misinformation, including that self-medicating with vitamin A will prevent measles.

Melnick said the county is also spending precious time and resources addressing false ideas being spread by anti-vaccine advocates, who he said posted “ridiculous” misinformation as comments on the county health department’s Facebook page.

Critics claimed, for instance, that the measles vaccine can cause encephalitis, or brain inflammation, he said. That was documented once in a child who had an immune deficiency and should not have gotten a shot. More commonly, encephalitis is a severe but rare complication of the disease itself. The department has a three-person team countering those assertions and responding to questions.

But what if we like disease and death?

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