NORMAN — The Oklahoma Department of Health has confirmed 13 cases of mumps in Garfield County, one in Kay County and is investigating 10 others. While Oklahoma Department of Health Public Information Officer Corey Robertson said there is no need to panic, the outbreak has brought light to the ongoing vaccination debate.

Norman pediatrician and Vaccinate Oklahoma spokesperson Dr. Thomas Kuhls will speak at noon today at Variety Care Lafayette in Oklahoma City about the future of the debate regarding vaccines. He’s hoping to see it come to an end.

“The key to protection in a population is everyone needs to be immunized,” Kuhls said. “Studies show that it takes around 90 percent of the population to be protected to stop an outbreak from spreading.”

State law allows parents the option to exempt children from vaccines based on medical, personal or religious grounds. The Oklahoma Department of Health currently estimates about 1 percent of the population are legally exempt.

Kuhls said even at 1 percent, the exemption process is a threat to public health that must be eradicated.

The Oklahoma Department of Health has yet to release information on the exemption status of those recently infected, but Robertson said the majority were vaccinated against mumps. Not all vaccines are 100 percent effective, but Kuhls said that doesn’t make a case against vaccination.

“I’m the first to admit, no vaccine is going to be 100 percent effective to an individual,” Kuhls said. “Most vaccines are in the 90 percent range. But the point is, even if those people do get infections, the infection is usually milder and there’s less contagiousness, because you’re partially immunized.”

Kuhls and the newly launched Vaccinate Oklahoma campaign are pushing to see exemptions removed at the state level.

“We’re the only state that has an anti-vaccine law,” Kuhls said. “Every other state is trying to strengthen the law. Only 18 states allow personal exemptions. We’re one of those. You have national organizations that are charged with the health care of children saying we should not be allowing personal exemptions.”

One of the organizations Kuhls cites is the American Association of Pediatrics.

According to a policy statement released last month, the AAP is calling for the elimination of all non-medical exemptions, citing public health concern.

Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, vice chair of the AAP Committee on Infectious Diseases, praised California’s exemption-denying law that took effect in 2015.

“It’s the right thing to do,” she said. “We have to protect children if we have the means to do so … Judging from what we saw in California, education is really critical for those families.”

Oklahomans for Vaccine and Health Choice proponent Dr. Jim Meehan said education is the answer, but miseducation is rampant.

The former editor of the Journal of Ocular Immunology said he used to be on the other side of the aisle, but as he researched, he concluded that the link between vaccination and autism carries more validity than the medical community is willing to accept.

“I’m not a conspiracy theorist,” he said. “I’m a realist. A lot of my colleagues in medicine haven’t looked at both sides of the issue. It’s been a difficult thing for me to transition. I just thought vaccines were solved science. But what I’ve realized is there is more dishonesty and suppression in that than people realize.”

Many scientists and doctors have spoken in favor of vaccination, but Meehan said they are misguided by the influence of large pharmaceutical companies who have a lot to gain from the vaccine trade.

“These doctors are intelligent people,” he said. “But they’re intelligent people who are only reading one side of the argument, because to do otherwise creates too much cognitive dissonance. It’s too uncomfortable for them to think they’ve spent 10-15 years of their career injecting vaccines into children that may injure that child.”

He said research funding from major pharmaceutical companies does not get honest results. In essence, he said researchers are inclined to come to a conclusion that keeps their funding flowing. Couple that with a 1986 Supreme Court ruling that shields pharmaceutical companies from legal liability regarding government-mandated vaccines and, he said, you have a recipe for disaster.

“The science is sound, but its application is corrupted,” he said. “The government gave vaccine manufacturers essentially a blank check, removing all product liability and leaving the public in the dark.

“Vaccines are far more than antigen that’s put in there. They’re full of 20 or 30 other ingredients that can be very detrimental, especially to a young child’s developing immune system. And we haven’t studied these effects.”

With so many unanswered questions, Tulsa-based anesthesiologist Andrew Revelis said it’s unethical to require immunizations. Revelis and his wife, also a physician, immunized their son in 2000. He was later diagnosed with autism.

Revelis, a former immunization supporter, said he was shocked by what he later learned about what he called flawed studies and intentional misdirection.

“All of these parents didn’t wake up one day and say, ‘Vaccines are dangerous,’” he said. “There’s a reason pharmaceutical companies are having to push the legislature to force people on this. There’s something sinister and chilling about this. They have a $30 billion captive industry. The CDC comes out with a schedule that they support with research funding to the CDC. They don’t have to advertise. They have no liability. And they make billions.”

Kuhls said those connections are misguided and maintains that vaccinations are imperative to public health.

“We’re not in it because vaccines make us a bunch of money,” Kuhls said. “That’s a ridiculous argument. We’re there to take care of children.”

He said the connection between autism and vaccines is non-existent and is born of a lack of understanding.

“If I immunize every child in the United States at 12-15 months of age, no matter what, it’s going to seem like a few people got some kind of illness right after they got the vaccine,” Kuhls said. “Autism used to be diagnosed as a communication disorder. Well, when do we recognize speech problems? Around 12-15 months of age.

“So, invariably there are going to be a number of kids diagnosed with autism right at the same time, temporally associated with giving the vaccine. That’s what ends up happening. It’s temporally associated. It’s not a cause-and-effect relationship.”

Kuhls said it is irresponsible to put a choice motivated by fear and misinformation above public health. At present, state policy regarding immunizations for school-aged children is on his side.

The Oklahoma Department of Health issued a statement Tuesday on the mumps vaccine, calling it “safe and effective.”