In The Politics of Autism, I look at the discredited notion that vaccines cause autism.
In Oregon, where both libertarians and natural lifestyle devotees abound, the anti-vaccination mindset is particularly strong. At 7.5 percent, Oregon currently has the highest percent of kindergartners in the country whose guardians claim exemptions for vaccinations on philosophical or religious grounds. That’s a full percentage point higher than what Oregon recorded in 2017—and the figure has risen steadily since the early 2000s.
“There’s an extraordinary amount of information, much of it wrong, some of it right, on the internet,” says State Representative Mitch Greenlick, who chairs the health committee in the Oregon House of Representatives. “This is part of a wave of anti-science attitudes in the country, and even the state.”
Oregon parents are generally required to have their kindergartners vaccinated against diphtheria, measles, mumps, rubella, polio, chickenpox, Hepatitis A and B, and tetanus. But there are exemptions for kids who have medical conditions that would make vaccines dangerous—and for kids whose parents cite religious or philosophical objections to vaccines.
In 2013, Oregon passed a law requiring that parents who claim non-medical vaccine exemptions must either watch an hour-long online video about vaccines produced by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) or discuss vaccines with a medical professional. But the law has failed to make a meaningful impact on vaccination rates: While Oregon’s rate dropped in 2015 from 7 percent to 5.8 percent, it climbed steadily to 7.5 percent between 2015 and 2018, making the exemption rate higher than before the law went into effect.