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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883
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Opinion >  Editorial

Editorial: Pro-vaccine bill has it right; council’s Fagan has it wrong

In an act of public disservice, Spokane City Councilman Mike Fagan has taken to social media and questioned public health experts on the need to vaccinate against measles.

Fagan’s Facebook posts undermine last week’s pro-vaccination message from the Spokane Regional Health District in response to the measles outbreak. He defended his messages, telling The Spokesman-Review, “What I tell people is, get your vaccinations at your own risk. Buyer beware. Do your due diligence.”

If only he had done his.

On Fagan’s Facebook page is a link to a measles study that has been retracted. It’s not the infamous Andrew Wakefield study that falsely linked the measles vaccine to autism, but a more obscure one. The research journal’s retraction notice reads: “The Editor and Publisher regretfully retract the article as there were undeclared competing interests on the part of the author which compromised the peer review process. Furthermore, post-publication peer review raised concerns about the validity of the methods and statistical analysis, therefore the Editors no longer have confidence in the soundness of the findings.”

Fagan also provides a Facebook link to a wildly speculative article from Natural News, which is run by conspiracy peddler Mike Adams. A search of Natural News finds crackpot theories about the 9/11 attacks, the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre and “chemtrails.” One article begins, “HIV does NOT cause AIDS. HIV does not cause anything.” Natural News is virulently anti-government and anti-mainstream medicine. Justifying an anti-vaccine message based on such nonsense is irresponsible.

As a member of the county health board, Fagan should defer to the experts or step down. He should definitely scrub the nonsense from his Facebook page. This is a serious health issue that calls for diligence, not dilettantes.

On a more encouraging note, Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, has introduced a pro-vaccination bill – HB 2009 – that would eliminate personal-belief waivers. Washington is one of the more lenient states in allowing unvaccinated children to attend public schools. Parents could still get waivers for medical or religious reasons, but it’s the “personal belief” box that accounts for the vast majority of exemptions.

For instance, in the 2011-12 school year, 51 of the 500 students attending Hutton Elementary School were exempted, all but nine for personal reasons, according to state Department of Health data. Removing that exemption would raise the vaccination rate from 88.8 percent to 98 percent. Public health experts say a 90 percent-plus rate is needed for effective herd immunity.

Currently, parents can cite “personal beliefs” without having to explain themselves or think through the ramifications for the rest of the community. Some merely view the form as a “hassle.” But widespread vaccination is too important to treat cavalierly.

The Legislature should pass this bill, and elected officials should communicate responsibly, so we can once again eradicate a potentially dangerous disease.

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