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The following is presented as part of The Columbian’s Opinion content, which offers a point of view in order to provoke thought and debate of civic issues. Opinions represent the viewpoint of the author. Unsigned editorials represent the consensus opinion of The Columbian’s editorial board, which operates independently of the news department.
News / Opinion / Editorials

In Our View: Shame on Wilson, Rivers for vaccine deceit

The Columbian
Published: April 23, 2019, 6:03am

In using misinformation and promoting fraudulent science to oppose a bill regarding vaccines, state Sens. Lynda Wilson, R-Vancouver, and Ann Rivers, R-La Center, have poorly served their constituents.

Wilson and Rivers last week opposed a bill to eliminate personal exemptions for a requirement that children receive the measles, mumps and rubella vaccination. In the process, they echoed talking points from anti-vaccine proponents who choose to eschew established science in promoting a view that runs counter to mountains of evidence. The bill was the result of an outbreak that led to 73 documented cases of measles in Clark County.

While we favor robust debate in the legislative chambers, Wilson and Rivers went beyond reasonable discussion and embraced falsehoods to defend their positions.

“We keep hearing ‘the science is settled, the science is settled.’ It is not settled,” Wilson said in reference to the safety of the MMR vaccine.

Actually, it is settled. For two decades, critics have clung to a fraudulent British study that suggested the MMR vaccine increases the risk of autism in children. That study has been discredited, the doctor has been stripped of his medical license, and dozens of follow-up studies have found no link between the vaccine and autism.

Advocacy group AutismSpeaks writes, “The results of this research is clear: Vaccines do not cause autism.” The Centers for Disease Control offers scientifically sound information about the safety of the vaccine and links to research that debunks the supposed link to autism. And the American Academy of Pediatrics provides a list of studies that have examined the issue.

Science is not infallible. But unlike anti-vaxx propaganda, studies are subject to peer review and must adhere to strict standards. In echoing the claim that the science is not settled, Wilson has chosen to believe the College of Google rather than researchers at the CDC; Children’s Hospital in Australia; the University of Washington; Harvard University; and other institutions that follow scientific protocol. In the process, she has embraced an anti-science stance that has led to the rejuvenation of a disease once considered eradicated in the United States.

So has Rivers, who spoke against the bill by saying: “To develop a frame of reference for the massive outbreak in Washington state, it was located in one church in Southwest Washington. It is over; it is done.” She added a claim that researchers say some patients are inherently susceptible to adverse vaccine reactions.

That led to a response from Dr. Alan Melnick, Public Health director and Clark County health officer. “The outbreak was not, and I’m going to repeat, was not confined to a church,” Melnick said. As for a predisposition to adverse reactions, he said: “I haven’t seen anything in the scientific literature that backs that up at all. That sounds like it’s straight out of the anti-vaxxer playbook.”

If Wilson and Rivers wish to argue that parents should have a right to eschew vaccines and that personal freedom outweighs public health concerns, that is their right. But it is irresponsible for them to spread fake news.

The state Senate last week passed the legislation, House Bill 1638, which was sponsored by Rep. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, and co-sponsored by Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver. The law would maintain religious or medical exemptions to the vaccine.

In the end, lawmakers made the right decision. Most believed science rather than propaganda. Sens. Lynda Wilson and Ann Rivers should have done the same.