‘It’s important to public safety,’ Vaccine bill to return to capitol

OKLAHOMA - Citing an obligation as a physician, a state senator once again plans to introduce a bill to limit vaccine exemptions, even though similar legislation has failed the last two years.

"I won't hesitate to run this bill every year if I can," said Sen. Ervin Yen (R-Oklahoma City). "It's not about me or my family. They're not vaccinated. It's about those people and children who cannot be vaccinated."

Yen's bill will be almost exactly the same to the measure he pushed during the 2015 session, which removed religious and personal exemptions from vaccination.

Exemptions for medical conditions would be left intact.

In an attempt at compromise, Yen modified the language slightly in 2016, leaving religious exemptions in place.

That bill failed to get out of committee, amid protest from parents like Liza Greve.

"We, as the government, need to stay out of the doctor-patient relationship," she said. "There has been no study, in the United States, to show that an unvaccinated child is unhealthy and walks around carrying these diseases."

Greve has been wary of vaccines since her oldest son fell ill after getting shots at 12 and 18 months old.

He's since been diagnosed with autism and "vaccine injury" by an immunologist.

"It’s like a death," she said. "Your child is present, but the child that you knew is no longer present. The hopes, the dreams you have when you wonder about autism."

She has no problem with other children getting vaccines but believes parents should have the choice to decide what they believe is best for their child.

Yen said that takes choices away from other parents.

"What about the rights of parents to send their immune-compromised child to school and not get a highly-contagious disease that will kill them?" he said. "That's what this is about."

Yen points to a mumps outbreak that has reached more than 80 people with more than 30 people still under investigation.

Though the Oklahoma State Department of Health said 80 percent of those infected had all their shots, vaccines "worked wonders" on those who came in contact with the disease but did not contract it.

"Right now, it looks like 40-something vaccinated people have gotten mumps in Oklahoma," he said. "What does that tell me? It tells me over 500 have been exposed. If you're vaccinated for mumps, actually any of the diseases that we vaccinate for, and you do get the disease, it's not as bad."

The senator fears diseases like mumps, polio and others could make a comeback if Oklahoma doesn't up its immunization rate.

"We almost had whooping cough eradicated in this country years ago, but it's back," he said. "Why is it back? Because of these people who are speaking ill of vaccination."

The OSDH, which cannot take positions on legislation, encourages as much vaccination as possible.

"We don't want to see kids in iron lungs like they were years and years ago," said Lori Linstead, director of immunization service. "Everywhere you go and you're not vaccinated and you are running the risk of spreading that, think of all the people that you've touched and been in close contact with. It doesn't take long for even one case to have an outbreak."

The health department said no vaccine is a guarantee of immunity, but Linstead said those who do get the shots - which are typically about 80 percent effective - will suffer less if they do indeed get sick.

Linstead encourages parents to do their own research, looking at reliable, credible sources.

Greve, meanwhile, is asking parents to do the same.

"We need to look at the science," she said, citing what she calls "thousands" of cases similar to hers. "The science shows those children and adults that got the mumps, most of them have been vaccinated."