State Sen. Ervin Yen, R-Oklahoma City, plans to explore vaccination issues during the 2017 legislative session.
In an interview Friday morning, the Oklahoma City Republican told eCapitol’s Tyler Talley vaccination rates have plummeted over the last decade, and he said it’s his duty as a physician to advocate for vaccinations:
He explained that there was once a 95 percent Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) vaccination rate among kindergartners in Oklahoma.
"We are now at 90 percent," he said. "If we were still at 95 percent, I would not be doing this." To achieve herd immunity, 90 to 95 percent of a population must be vaccinated for highly transmissible diseases according the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Last year, Yen authored a bill that would’ve removed a provision that allows parents of public school children to opt out of the 11 required vaccines for religious or personal reasons. That bill failed in committee due to criticism it strips away parental choice:
Liza Greve, with the parent-group Oklahomans for Vaccine Choice, said at the bill's hearing in February that it was "unprecedented and unnecessary" in Oklahoma.
"Where there's a risk there must be a choice," Greve said.
She also questioned whether the bill's intent was more about profits and less about public safety due to its lack of liability for harm brought about by vaccinations.
Yen said the benefits of vaccines greatly outweigh any risks, and cited this fall’s mumps outbreak in Garfield and Kay counties as evidence that diseases like that are preventable.
As of Monday morning there had been 81 confirmed cases of the mumps in northern Oklahoma, with 36 still under investigation. The median age of patients at 15, and 79 percent of patients confirmed to have the illness were vaccinated:
Yen predicated that opponents will argue that data shows many of those affected in the outbreak had received a mumps vaccine to which he countered that statistics show if a patient receives the two shots, the vaccine is 88 percent effective and 77 percent if only one is delivered.
"That means if 100 people are exposed to mumps which is real contagious...and they're all vaccinated, 12 will still get mumps," he elaborated. "It doesn't mean that vaccinations don't work. We know that 12 percent of the time, the mumps vaccine does not work. However most scientists and physicians will tell you that they believe that when a vaccinated person gets a disease like mumps, they believe it's less severe."
Editor's note: A previous version of this story incorrectly stated Sen. Yen's amendment would also remove the vaccine exemption for medical reasons.