New Oregon Law Tightens School Vaccine Exemption Process
Oregon has the unfortunate distinction of having the nation’s highest rate of kindergarteners with nonmedical school vaccine exemptions. While the typical exemption rate across the U.S. for the 2011-2012 school year was about 1.2 percent, Oregon’s rate climbed from 5.8 percent last year to 6.4 percent this year.
The rising trend of nonmedical exemptions in Oregon has been a concern of doctors and public health officials for years. Knowing that the increase in exemptions would eventually lead to a resurgence of vaccine preventable diseases, many organizations started laying the groundwork to address the problem years ago at the national level by drafting an open letter in support of vaccines and their safety.
Spearheaded by the Oregon Pediatric Society, immunization experts, physicians groups and public health officials, and advocacy organizations such as Every Child By Two, Oregon drafted their own open letter to emphasize the benefits of childhood immunizations as a means of preventing dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases. Several years later, a collaborative group of public health advocates in Oregon and throughout the nation worked to support bill SB132 which was intended to ensure thoughtful consideration by parents seeking to opt out or delay vaccines for their children prior to enrolling them in school, and hopefully reduce exemptions.
The culmination of these efforts came in a moment of celebratory progress last week, when Oregon’s governor signed SB132 into law, making it more difficult for parents to enroll unvaccinated children in Oregon schools and daycares. The law does not restrict exemptions; however, it requires parents who wish to decline vaccines for their children to take a few extra measures before filing for an exemption.
In the past, a parent need only sign a piece of paper acknowledging that they were exempting their child from one or all of the vaccines required. With the passing of this new bill, a parent must now either visit a doctor to discuss the implications of their decision, or prove they watched an educational video intended to explain the risks and benefits of both the vaccines and the diseases they are intended to prevent.
At a time when children are suffering – and even dying – from diseases such as pertussis, public health proponents agree that it’s only reasonable to ask parents who wish to abandon the school vaccine requirements to take a few extra steps before putting their children, and their children’s classmates, at risk. In fact, many states are encouraged by the response they witnessed when Washington state revised their exemption policies last year. In the first year since the passage of a law that changed the parental opt-out process, Washington’s vaccine exemption rates dropped to 4.5 percent for the 2011-2012 school year compared to 6.0 percent in 2010-2011 and 6.2 percent in 2009-2010. Additionally, a report published earlier this month concluded that the states with the highest nonmedical exemption rates where also the states with the fewest barriers for filing exemptions.
As many other states are considering new immunization legislation, Every Child By Two continues to encourage both local and national organizations to follow the same path as Oregon. By attaining official support in advance from pro-vaccine groups and medical experts through open letters, public health departments can be better prepared to support or oppose efforts that are incongruent with good public health.
As an example, the Minnesota Department of Health has recently proposed a revision to the school immunization requirements to match the federal immunization recommendations made by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). As part of the post-hearing comment period, they are requesting national and statewide support and asking immunization supporters to submit their remarks for consideration. The first phase of the comments close today at 4:30 but this is followed by a five-day rebuttal period in which public comments can be received as late as July 24 at 4:30. It is requested that any comments include the docket number (OAH Docket No. 8-0900-30570) and are sent to Judge Lipman by e-mail, mail or fax.
Hon. Eric L. Lipman
Administrative Law Judge
600 North Robert Street
P.O. Box 64620
St. Paul , MN 55164-0620
As always, we appreciate all our dedicated vaccine advocates for speaking out in support of strong immunization policies.