Oregon has one of the highest rates in the country for kindergarteners with vaccine exemptions. The state’s 7% rate is only lower than Utah’s (7.4%) and Idaho’s (9.8%). Ryan Hassan is a pediatrician in Happy Valley and also serves as the medical director for Boost Oregon, a parent-led nonprofit working to increase vaccinations for youth and adults through education.
Hassan says he’s seen an increase in the number of parents questioning long established vaccines, in addition to the skepticism around COVID-19 vaccines — which he says isn’t surprising, given the rise of disinformation showing up in mainstream and social media.
“Anti-vaccine profiteering is a very lucrative industry. And there are people who make quite a lot of money from selling the idea that vaccines are harmful. And there are alternatives to help people avoid disease that are safe … but it’s an area of our industry that is not as tightly regulated. So there’s more room for people to sell things that are not very well-studied or that have been proven to not be helpful.”
In his clinical practice, he says he makes sure to tell parents that their children should receive all the vaccines recommended by the Centers for Disease Control. He also lets them know that he has gotten those vaccinations for himself and his children, while respecting other parents’ health choices.
“I do try to acknowledge that there are good reasons to not trust the government. I don’t trust the government per se. It’s a giant multifaceted organization that is violating our civil liberties in many ways, constantly,” he said.
And Hassan said he also hears about mistrust of the health care industry as a whole, which he empathizes with while acknowledging the efforts of those on the front lines of responding to public health challenges like COVID-19.
“I have my own negative experiences in health care, but I do trust the people who have dedicated their lives to try to help others: People who are civil servants working in government for low salaries; people who are dedicated scientists who do the research, who try to figure out novel ways to prevent disease and keep people healthy, who have dedicated their lives to this nation, who often don’t get acknowledgement,” he said
Hassan believes Oregon lawmakers could make changes in state law to boost childhood vaccination rates. He points to California, where large measles outbreaks nearly a decade ago led to the end of nonmedical exemptions for vaccinations.
“California removed nonmedical exemptions from their list of reasons why people could choose to not vaccinate … People in California must be vaccinated to attend public school, unless they have an actual medical contra-indication from getting one.”
Boost Oregon offers educational videos and information, along with training and coaching for physicians on how to have conversations with patients and parents to make decisions about vaccinations that are informed by science.
The CDC recommended this week that all people 6 months and older get a COVID-19 vaccination. Those shots are expected to be available in Oregon in the coming weeks.