As an organization invested in the health of every person in our communities, we were extremely disappointed to hear that the Oregon Legislature abandoned House Bill 3063, which would have eliminated parents’ ability to opt out of vaccinating their children prior to school attendance without a medical exemption.
We are especially concerned that the health of our communities became a political bargaining chip following the worst outbreak of measles in 25 years.
We believe strongly that the health of one person is indeed the health of humanity. This means one person’s health can affect the lives of others; in this case, we are frustrated to hear that our elected officials discarded a bill so vital to Oregon’s health.
HB 3063 would have preserved the health and safety of the many Oregonians who do not have the option of vaccination, including children and adults with cancer, rheumatologic diseases requiring high-dose steroids or other immune suppression, those with HIV, and children born with immune deficiencies.
What is even more unsettling is that those opposed to the legislation pointed to non-vaccination as an “access to care issue.”
In Oregon, there is no “access to care issue” regarding the ability of low-income individuals to vaccinate their children thanks to the Vaccines for Children (VFC) program. VFC is a federally funded program that provides vaccines at no cost to children who might not otherwise be vaccinated because of inability to pay, including those enrolled in Medicaid and Oregon Health Plan.
Children whose health insurance policies do not cover some type of vaccines may receive no-cost immunizations at public sites, such as county health department clinics and clinics that are designated as a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) or a Rural Health Clinic (RHC). Immunizations significantly reduce the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases and represent a cost-effective way to foster health equity.
Furthermore, because our community health centers have extremely high vaccination rates among our patient population, Oregon’s low vaccination rate is not due to an access issue.
Oregonians can rest assured that our community health centers will continue to do our part; we had just hoped that the state’s elected officials would also do theirs.
Carlos Olivares is CEO of Yakima Valley Farm Workers Clinic, which operates health centers in Portland, Hermiston, Woodburn, Salem, Astoria and Clatskanie in Oregon.