Ashland Ground Zero in Vaccine Debate


Ashland is back in the national spotlight. As the community with the least number of vaccinated children in the country, the latest measles outbreak spreading from Disneyland to numerous communities including Eugene begs the question about responsibility for those who don’t get the measles, mumps and rubella vaccines or any vaccines for that matter.

Jackson County Public Health Director Jim Shames says,”…it [vaccines] prevents the spread of disease to others. So it’s a public service in my opinion. It’s really kind of part of what we do to take care of each other in a society.”

But the numbers bear out that many disagree with his perspective. In some Ashland schools over half of children do not receive all their scheduled shots. In Siskiyou School on Clay St., two thirds of students are not vaccinated on the Center for Disease Control (CDC) schedule.

Shames who tracks the spread of illness in the region and works to contain it urges parents to vaccinate because “you’re protecting your child against some diseases, some of which are very serious,” and also, he continued, “There are some people that can’t be immunized like new born babies, or in some cases pregnant women, or people who are on chemotherapy, or people who have immune deficiencies, and those people can get very ,very ill or die from those diseases. So when you immunize yourself or you immunize your child you’re [not just] protecting the individual but you’re also keeping the community safe.”

A local father who requested anonymity, who, we will call Bob, made his daughter stop getting the CDC scheduled shots after she showed health problems, “We started following vaccination schedules and immediately it looked like there were physical skin reactions to that. And out of that, like really seeing my daughter going from happy and just a normal infant, to being really uncomfortable and miserable for a period of time. I wasn’t going to expose her to that, I just wasn’t willing to do that and then I started researching it.”
Some parents like Medford mother Victoria Pilkington feel it is hard to get objective information. Pilkington said since her children now are old enough to travel, she is starting to consider some vaccinations for them, “it’d be nice to find somebody to talk to, to ask the questions to that doesn’t have an agenda. That actually can talk about the issue in a nonjudgmental not in an agenda specific manner. You know? That you can go to a doctor and actually have a conversation about it, and weigh the pros and cons, not have finger pointing.. that you have to do something.”

Trust seems to be a recurrent theme. When talking about the lobbying of pharmaceutical giant and major vaccine producer Merck and Co. Bob said, “it’s a lot of money for someone to be throwing around and have everyone stay honest. I really would like to see more public forums where the science can be evaluated under. You know it’s supposed to be a government of the people, but I feel as if it’s a government of the corporations, they provide the research, they provide the information, they benefit from the results more than anybody.”

In his job Shames deals with mis-trust. When talking about the hardest part of educating the public Shames said, “People don’t trust. They find it harder and harder to trust. They’re not sure who to trust, [they] don’t trust the government, don’t trust the vaccine manufactures, don’t trust the CDC, don’t trust public health, don’t trust their doctors, and I think that’s unfortunate. I think we need to be a little more discerning about who to trust, because otherwise you just don’t know where to go, you don’t know what to believe. Somebody says its science and it’s not; and somebody else says it’s not science
but it is, but I think we need to kind of look again at who are the trustworthy folks and
reach out to them for help in making difficult decisions.”

Ultimately the decision is up to parents. They can file for a religious or personal belief exemption in Oregon like most states. Although California is considering joining West Virginia and Mississippi as states that will not allow children in school regardless of their parent’s beliefs if the child is not vaccinated. It’s a trend that has been growing in recent years as once nearly wiped out diseases such as polio are re-emerging around the globe.