In 2012, Oregon schools had the highest rate of non-medical vaccine exemptions for students of kindergarten age. This past year also saw the highest rates for pertussis (whooping cough) cases in the U. S., for the past 50 years, according to the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention). Washington and Oregon also had higher incident rates than in previous years.
“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 pediatrician Jay Rosenbloom, M.D., co-chair of the Oregon Partnership to Immunize Children. Rosenbloom is a leading voice in the Oregonians for Healthy Children coalition, which recently introduced legislation aiming ultimately to curtail non-medical vaccine exemptions in Oregon’s school-age and daycare-age children.
Senate Bill 132, if successful, will require parents who request a non-medical exemption from immunization requirements to either complete an online educational video or obtain a signed form from their health care provider, in an effort to educate parents about the risk of opting out of immunizations, and about vaccine-preventable diseases and community immunity. Current law requires children enrolled in child care and school to submit a form verifying they have received required vaccines. Parents who choose not to vaccinate their children currently submit a form stating their exemption.
In 2011, Washington passed similar legislation resulting in a 25 percent decrease in immunization exemptions in that state.
“It’s important to take this action now, as the rate of non-medical exemptions has doubled here in Oregon in the past decade,” said Anne Stone, executive director of the Oregon Pediatric Society, which is convening the effort and gaining support to tighten the state’s current exemption policies.
Stone said recent research from the Oregon Immunization Program found that in 2012 alone, Oregon had more than 800 cases of pertussis, the state’s highest rate since the 1950s.
Added Rosenbloom, “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. Although, most parents understand the importance of immunizing their children, the exemption rates for non-immunized children are still increasing.”
Rosenbloom said that as state and local outreach over the past several years has increased, it has also shown, “parents will be helped by having more reliable, accurate access to medically-based information about immunizations and vaccine-preventable diseases.”
“Immunizations are an effective way to keep our children, families and communities safe and healthy, and they are the smartest prevention we can employ,” he said.