Guest Opinions

Should parents be forced to vaccinate their kids? Columbia Badgers will discuss that question

Parents have a “right” to expect that children they send to school do not return home infected by unvaccinated classmates. But don’t other parents have the “right” to feel government should not have the power to force a needle into the arm of a child?

Let me reminisce.

I was working as a reporter for KHQ in Spokane when our daughter, Melissa, was born. This was 1982. We regularly ran stories with experts urging parents to make sure their toddlers received the recommended series of vaccines on the schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). The thought of deliberately causing their precious little ones pain — even for good reason — was driving parents to distraction. Not to mention a day or two with a fussy, sleep-deprived youngster. It’s no real mystery that parents were uneasy.

I finally put the question to Craig Stuckey, MD, this way: “Would you have your own kid get these shots?”

The well-respected neonatologist shot back, “Absolutely. Without question. It’s the right thing to do for the kid and it’s also the right thing to do for the community.”

What about safety? In 1982, the answer was that, in spite of rumors and stories, the vaccines were safe and effective. So, our daughter got her shots. She wasn’t any happier about it than I was, but she got them as scheduled. And she didn’t get polio, whooping cough, measles, tetanus, mumps, etc.

But the debate about mandatory vaccinations wasn’t over then. And, it’s nowhere near over now.

In light of the measles outbreak earlier this year in Clark County, the Washington Legislature moved to eliminate “philosophical” exemptions for unvaccinated children to go to public or private schools or daycare centers. Only documented religious or medical exemptions are allowed. This fuels the debate about parents’ right to decide what is best for their own children.

There are two competing sets of “facts” about the safety and efficacy of vaccines.

First is the fact that most childhood diseases were virtually eliminated in the United States years ago, and are now making a comeback as in the case of measles. On the other hand is the fact that there are more kids diagnosed as being “on the spectrum” of autism-like disorders. Those who oppose vaccination cite a 1998 study by a now-discredited British physician linking the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) vaccine to autism.

According to the CDC, community immunity requires that 95 percent of the people be immunized to prevent measles, mumps, and rubella. Children under a year of age and some with medical conditions cannot receive the MMR vaccine. In order to keep them safe, nearly everyone else needs to be vaccinated. But, is it right for the government to force the issue?

So, who’s right? Or, whose rights are being trampled? The Sept. 26 Badger Forum will give you an opportunity to hear the arguments and make up your own mind.

Kirk Williamson is president of the Columbia Basin Badger Club and a member of its program committee.

If you go

When: 11:30 a.m., Thursday, Sept. 26

Where: Shilo Inn, 50 Comstock St., Richland

Cost: $25 for Badger Club members, $30 for nonmembers, $35 day of the event. Registration is required.

RSVP: Call 628-6011 or go to