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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.

In Our View: Education crucial to battling vaccine fears

By The Columbian
Published: February 19, 2019, 6:03am

Even if the Legislature passes a bill eliminating philosophical exemptions for recommended vaccinations, education will be necessary to fight misinformation.

The state House of Representatives has advanced a bill led by Reps. Paul Harris, R-Vancouver, and Monica Stonier, D-Vancouver, that would remove personal exemptions for the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. It now goes the House Rules Committee and then perhaps to the full House. In the Senate, a bill sponsored by Annette Cleveland, D-Vancouver, would eliminate personal exemptions for all recommended vaccinations. A public committee hearing is scheduled for Wednesday.

The Columbian has argued editorially that only medical or religious exemptions should be allowed for people to eschew vaccines. The ongoing measles outbreak in Clark County, which has infected at least 61 people, demonstrates the importance of an inoculated populace. Not long ago, measles were considered eradicated in the United States, but a misinformation campaign has led to an anti-vaxx movement and a climate that allowed the current outbreak to fester.

Medical professionals and reliable media outlets have fought against this misinformation for years, often to no avail; it can be difficult to counter what people persistently see on their Facebook feeds. But a recent guest opinion written for The Washington Post by a South Carolina woman named Rose Branigin offers a path for opening minds.

“What changed my mind?,” writes Branigin, explaining that she used to be opposed to vaccines. “It was finding a group of people who were strongly in favor of vaccines and willing to discuss the topic with me. They were able to correct all the misinformation I had heard and respond to my concerns with credible research and other helpful information. They addressed my fears about … vaccine ingredients, vaccine safety testing, and more.”

She also writes: “Another hurdle that I had to overcome involved the numerous stories that are claimed to be vaccine injuries, spreading across social media and finding their way into my news feed. … The stories appealed to my emotions and seemed so compelling.”

The arguments against vaccines do sound compelling; but they are either fabricated or overblown. Numerous scientific studies have quashed the notion that the MMR vaccine is linked to autism in children, a fallacy created by a British doctor in 1998. And the scary-sounding ingredients contained in vaccines are there for a reason and are safe in minuscule doses. The Centers for Disease Control, the Mayo Clinic, the Clark County Public Health department and numerous other professional outlets provide extensive information about vaccines; we believe they are more reliable than a Facebook link shared by your aunt from Minnesota.

Even if Washington adopts a law removing philosophical exemptions from vaccines — only 17 other states allow personal exemptions — misinformation will persist. One of the best defenses against falsehoods is a doctor who is willing to listen to a patient’s concerns and provide information in a straightforward manner without being condescending.

As Branigin concludes in her article for The Washington Post: “I’m grateful to the people who helped me protect myself against misinformation and gave me the facts I needed to keep my family safe. But I can’t do it alone. We all need to get our vaccinations, not just for ourselves but also to protect people who truly can’t be vaccinated. We all need to be in this together.”