Cheryl Cosgrove is an occupation RN and a member of the Oregon Nurses Association.

This week, a pivotal component of our state’s health is on the line – but it doesn’t have to be.

We have the tools to create and sustain a healthy Oregon that protects our children and community by upholding science-backed standards for immunization. Though most Oregonians and U.S. citizens alike support vaccines, our state is one of only 17 that accepts non-medical exemptions for important immunizations.

Because of an increased trend in opting out of immunizations, we’ve seen the reemergence of highly contagious, preventable diseases. This was exemplified in the recent measles outbreak that made its way to the Portland area and other spots in the Pacific Northwest.

In previous decades, outbreaks like this wouldn’t have been noteworthy. Before widespread use of vaccines, measles caused an estimated 2.6 million deaths a year. But as effective use of the measles vaccine increased, it became so rare that measles was declared eliminated from the U.S. in 2000. Now, increasing non-medical exemptions have reopened the door to measles and other vaccine-preventable diseases.

But we can do something about it.

Our community can come together with health care professionals and legislators to support health standards that protect all Oregonians. When you choose to forego immunizations for yourself or your kids, it can have unwanted ripple effects on the lives of others around you. For people who can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons, others’ choices to delay or reject some vaccines entirely is more than just a personal decision. It places them at risk, too.

Infants, individuals who are immunocompromised due to cancer treatment, and other vulnerable populations need our protection from vaccine-preventable diseases. As a nurse and grandmother I am keenly aware of the need to protect these vulnerable populations.

When we dip below the ideal 90-95 percent threshold of people immunized for community immunity, we leave ourselves susceptible to more outbreaks of diseases that can be eradicated – or, like measles, that were previously considered eliminated in the U.S.

Fortunately, measures that uphold evidence-based public health standards are on the horizon. As a nurse, I applaud State Representatives Mitch Greenlick (D), Cheri Helt (R) and Senator Chuck Thomsen (R) for putting public health ahead of politics by introducing House Bill 3063, a bipartisan bill that removes parents’ ability to decline required school-age immunizations for reasons other than a child’s indicated medical diagnosis. That means an end to non-medical exemptions in Oregon and a big win for our community’s immunity safety net.

When we have the ability to prevent disease and suffering for others, it’s our responsibility to take action.

My maternal grandmother lived in an era when immunizations weren’t readily available. She suffered from polio and it’s crippling effects most of her shortened life. She died when my mom was 12, leaving six children without a mother. Her experience was practically unavoidable then. But thanks to safe vaccination standards backed by thorough, long-term research, we can avoid similar tragedies now.

Vaccines are a key part of our communities’ health defenses and are critical to ensuring our communities’ health now and for future generations.

There are plenty of things we can’t control in life, but this isn’t one of them.

Immunization is the best bet we have to protect all Oregonians from preventable diseases.

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