SALEM — Eight percent of Oregon children have non-medical exemptions from vaccinations — the nation’s highest rate.
Some pediatricians aren’t proud of that statistic.
“During the past 10 years, Oregon has doubled in non-medical immunization exemption rates for children, and it’s worrisome that this high exemption rate could increase the incidence of vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles and whooping cough,” said Dr. Jay Rosenbloom, a spokesman for Oregonians for Healthy Children, a group led by the Oregon Pediatric Society.
OHC is promoting Senate Bill 132, which would require parents to get in-person or online information about the risks and benefits of immunization before signing the exemption. The bill is currently awaiting a hearing in the Health Care and Human Services Committee.
“Oregon’s kindergarten non-medical exemption rates are coming in at nearly 6 percent, but in some schools, the exemption rate has exceeded 75 percent,” Rosenbloom said.
The highest rates are found in Montessori kindergartens, said Dianne Danowski Smith, a publicist for OHC.
Among counties, Curry County leads the state with 12 percent of kindergartners exempted, while Coos County has 8 percent. Jefferson County in central Oregon is the most vaccinated county, with just 1 percent of kindergartners exempted. Cave Junction is the least vaccinated city, with a 25 percent exemption rate.
The statistics overstate the number of non-immunized children, since they don’t account for parents who sign an exemption for one vaccination but get their children vaccinated for other diseases. In 2008, the Oregon Immunization Program found 44 percent of children with exemption forms had received at least one vaccination.
OIP’s 2008 study found that some parents didn’t like the number of shots pediatricians gave in one visit, or thought the shots were given too early, “overwhelming” the children’s immune systems. Others were concerned about side effects of vaccination; 60 percent of parents who exempted their children believed that autism was linked to vaccines, an idea that has been discredited by the Centers for Disease Control.
Nearly half of exemptors thought it was better for their children to acquire immunity by getting a disease naturally than to get immunity through a vaccine.
Children generally must be immunized before they enter school, preschool or certified child-care facilities. But Oregon parents can exempt a child from vaccination if the child has a medical condition that contraindicates a particular vaccine, if the child is already immune to the a disease, or if the child “is being raised as an adherent to a religion the teachings of which are opposed to immunization,” according to the certificate parents must sign before the child enters school.
Parents get a brochure about immunization to read before they sign. They needn’t present any proof of religious affiliation; the state defines religion as any set of philosophical beliefs, practices or ethical values. Non-immunized children may be excluded from school during an outbreak of infectious disease.
Under SB 132, parents could still get an exemption, but they’d have to watch a presentation, online or in person, about immunization. The online presentation would be a video based on information from the CDC.
The requirements would take effect in March 2014. No hearing has yet been scheduled for the bill.
Reporter Gail Elber can be reached at 541-269-1222, ext. 234, at email@example.com, or on Twitter at @gailtheworld.