The Disneyland measles outbreak has become a catalyst for many parents in several states, including Washington, in calling for stricter laws regarding measles vaccinations.
However, a negative backlash may be in the offing if vaccination is enforced, experts say. Experts who’ve studied the contentious issue worry such efforts could backfire.
Washington Gov. Jay Inslee and King County public-health officials have aligned themselves to back last ditch efforts regarding a bill filed in the Legislature that would eliminate the state’s exemptions based on personal belief for required measles vaccinations in schools, but keeping exemptions based on medical and religious beliefs.
Rep. June Robinson, D-Everett, filed the bill with 11 co-sponsors. She said that the present rule “just makes it too easy” for parents to disregard vaccinations.
“I think we need to think about the larger community and what we’re doing, not just to ourselves and our own children, but also to all the people in the community.”
The bill is similar to California’s proposal to do away with the state’s personal vaccine exemption which was filed the same day the number of infection increased to 99 cases according to public health officials. Last Friday it went up to 103.
Lower rates of exemption is attainable doctors noted, but the main concern is the anti-vaccination group’s efforts which may create more resistance among parents. This may doom the vaccination drive to fail in the long run.
There are several reasons currently that are making parents worry against vaccinations, according to research team. Other issues that may crop up later will might just be as worrisome.
“The public mood may be able to pass these laws now, but the concern is when this currentdies down,” said Dr. Saad B. Omer, a professor of global health and epidemiology at Emory University, who has studied so-called “hot spots” of vaccine resistance, including several in Washington state.
Anti-vaccination groups are vocal and powerful and blanket decrees might polarize already divisive positions, making vaccines “unnecessarily controversial,” he said.
There was a study made in 2014 by Dartmouth University researchers concerning bombarding the public with pro-vaccine messages. According to them, this move by the public health officials only managed to create more resistance to it rather than helping.
“My fear is that in the long run, it may end up backfiring,” Omer added. Instead, it might be better to “nudge” parents into compliance rather than penalizing them.
The same opinion was expressed by Dr. Doug Opel, a pediatrician and assistant professor of bioethics and pediatrics at the University of Washington and Seattle Children’s, who has done extensive research regarding vaccine-related issues.
He said that he is happy with House Bill2009 which bans personal exemptions and the immediate response to the Disneyland measles outbreak following last year’s record breaking infection with 644 cases, the worst in almost 20 years.
Washington is only one of 20 states that allow personal-belief exemptions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.
“Disneyland brings it closer to home, so to speak,” Opel said. “It’s encouraging that it’s prompting a broad debate about the appropriate balance between personal choice and public health.”
But Opel also worries about the reaction of parents who feel their right to personal choice is being trampled: “One potential outcome is that we get a backlash against these mandatory laws.”