Oregon's 2013 School Vaccine Exemption Rates Climb from 2012
May 08, 2013

Last week, in a blog focused on rising school vaccination exemptions, I explained legislation (Senate Bill 132) which has recently been proposed in the state of Oregon – a state with the highest rate of non-medical exemptions for kindergarteners in the country.   Then yesterday, The Oregon Immunization Program released the 2013 rates of Oregon kindergarteners who have cited nonmedical (religious) exemption from one or more required vaccines, and unfortunately the data shows that the exemption rates have continued to rise over 2012, reaching an all-time high of 6.4%.

Sadly, exemption increases were noted in 26 counties, with 17 of those counties now surpassing the 6% rate which is commonly referred to as the threshold after which community immunity may be compromised for some vaccine preventable diseases such as measles and pertussis.  Comparatively, the 2012 data noted 13 counties with rates above 6% last year.  And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), 2012 also saw the highest rates for pertussis (whooping cough) in the past 50 years, with Oregon being one of the worst impacted with more than 800 cases of pertussis last year alone.

Pediatrician Jay Rosenbloom, M.D., who leads the Oregonians for Healthy Children’s efforts to create new policy in Oregon under Senate Bill 132, admits that these statistics are troubling.  This is why he supports Senate Bill 132, which seeks to curtail non-medical vaccine exemptions in Oregon’s schools and daycares by requiring parents who request a non-medical exemption to either complete an online educational video, or obtain a signed form from their health care provider.

The goal is to educate parents about the risk of opting out of immunizations, as well as inform them about vaccine preventable diseases and community immunity.  Often parents seek information online about vaccines; information that is often inaccurate and incomplete. The hope is that this legislation will ensure parents receive credible, medically based information about immunizations and vaccine-preventable diseases.  While the bill will still allow parents to claim exemptions for any reason, the hope is that the education required will reduce the number of parents who choose to file exemptions, as was seen when Washington state’s exemption rates decreased by 25% following similar legislation  passed there in 2011. 

Dr. Rosenbloom explains,

“Our work to help parents become better informed, which is a provision in Senate Bill 132, is needed now more than ever.”

With Oregon’s rates surpassing the 6% benchmark, he goes on to say,

“This means we will not have the ‘community immunity’ protection that we need to protect our youngest and most vulnerable individuals against some diseases.”

As a result of the state and local outreach that Dr. Rosenbloom and other advocates have been a part of over the past several years, he believes,

“It will be helpful for parents to have ongoing, reliable, accurate access to medically based information about immunizations and vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Anne Stone of the Oregon Pediatric Society agrees and notes that the “increasing non-medical exemption rate has nearly tripled in Oregon in the past twelve years,” which has prompted many individuals and organizations to take note, join together and support parental education around current exemption policies.  Already, more than 90 individuals and medical professionals around Oregon have signed on in support of SB132 with the hope that by educating parents we can help keep our children, families and communities protected.  Although this legislation is specific to Oregon, it’s important to note that these policies impact us all.

If you would like to find out how you can support the Oregonians for Healthy Children’s Immunization Education Campaign, visit their website here and sign on in support of SB132.

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