Vaccination debate arrives in Tacoma via documentary tour bus

TACOMA, Wash. – The number of mumps cases reported this year in Washington state outpaces totals from years past.

State health officials said one possible factor could be parents who haven’t gotten their children vaccinated.

Nearly 5 percent of kindergartners in Washington weren’t immunized for the 2016-2017 school year because of personal beliefs or medical reasons -- that’s more than double the national average of 2 percent, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

But there is a group visiting our state who says this may not be a bad thing. Producers for a documentary called "Vaxxed" brought their tour bus to Tacoma`s Franklin Park to speak with parents who worry their kids were injured from vaccinations.

“I’m not here to tell parents not to vaccinate,” said Dr. Suzanne Humphries, who is touring with the documentary’s producers. “I’m here to tell parents there’s a bigger picture.”

Part of that bigger picture includes hundreds of names scribbled on the side of the Vaxxed tour bus. The names represent those who claim to have been injured by vaccinations.

According to Humphries, parents should do their research before vaccinating their child.

“There should be a risk-benefit ratio explained to every patient before they get vaccinated,” she said.

But state health professionals worry the message shared by the documentary could mislead parents and threaten not only their child’s health but those of other children, too.

“I think there needs to be a really strong response that somehow could get to the hearts and minds of folks in the way that some of these masters of disinformation have done it,” said Harborview Medical Center’s Dr. John Lynch.

In some parts of Washington, vaccination rates are lower than in other states. Officials at the state’s Health Department worries rising numbers of mumps cases could be tied to more parents choosing not to vaccinate their kids.

“The decision to vaccinate a child is a decision to protect that child’s health with proven science,” said Dr. Paul Throne. “We’re in the business of giving people the best information we can find, and the best information is that vaccines can save lives.”

Humphries only wants parents to keep an open mind about vaccinations, and Vaxxed producers want parents to check out their movie.

“I started paying closer attention and I saw that indeed not only is there documented medical histories in the medical literature with the exact reasons why this could happen after a vaccine, but I was starting to see it myself,” said Humphries.

The documentary’s tour continues this week with stops in Seattle, Redmond, Kirkland, Bellingham and Spokane.