As concerned parents, school administrators, and healthcare officials battle in the growing immunization debate, a new law may see more Oregon children vaccinated.
Effective Mar. 1, the new law requires parents to consult a family physician or health professional before choosing to opt out of vaccinating their child. Instead of a consultation, parents may watch an hour-long instructional video.
“We want to make sure parents and guardians receive science-based information about the benefits and risks of vaccine,” a school law coordinator for the state Public Health Division, Stacy de Assis Matthews, told The Oregonian. “There is a lot of misinformation out there on the internet.”
Similar legislation in Washington and California saw a decrease in vaccination waivers. Health professionals, like the medical director for Oregon’s immunization program, Dr. Paul Cieslak, hope that offering parents a chance to get the facts will stop the growing trend of vaccination exemptions.
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) last year, 6.4 percent of the state’s kindergartens had a non-medical vaccination exemption. Oregon’s kindergartners boast the highest vaccination exemption rates in the nation.
Upon deeper investigation surrounding the current vaccination and outbreak scares, people on both sides of the debate found the issue relatively convoluted.
“It’s not a case of everybody’s claiming more exemptions,” Cieslak told The Oregonian. “It’s rather that there are focused areas that are just going through the roof with exemptions.”
While approximately 80 percent of Oregon’s public and private schools and child-care facilities have vaccination exemption rates under 6 percent, certain communities are choosing not to vaccinate their children.
This means that while the overall state stats tip into the scary realm of fewer and fewer kids getting immunization, in reality only certain clusters are avoiding vaccinations. The 80 percent majority of schools and facilities with low exemption rates maintain “herd immunity” – having enough individuals vaccinated to avoid a virus spreading.
So what’s happening in those minority clusters? Associate science director of the CDC’s Immunization Services Division, Shannon Stokley, explained that many factors contribute to the geographical clustering of exemptions. Unemployment rate and physician availability can play into the equation.
“People may be influenced by friends, or what they read on the Internet, what they see on the news,” Stokley told The Oregonian. “We know the physician recommendation is one of the most important things that influences a parent’s decision on vaccinating a child.”
A K-12 Catholic school in Veneta, St. Thomas Becket Academy, currently has the highest exemption rate in the state. Of the school’s small population, 72 percent are unvaccinated.
Among Oregon’s public schools, Woodland Charter School claims the highest exemption rate at 69 percent.
“We’re a school that follows the law,” Woodland’s principal, Lois Horan, told The Oregonian. “It just so happens that our population is that group that decides to not vaccinate, but we’re very, very careful.”
Last year, the charter school successfully dealt with a case of whooping cough by asking parents to implement immediate quarantine. The disease did not spread past the initial cases.
Some parents are hesitant about the new law, including Ashland resident Jennifer Margulis. Mom of four and author of the book, The Business of Baby, Margulis is passionate about sharing honest medical information.
“I think education and communication between health care officials and parents is always a good thing,” Margulis told The Oregonian. “But I am concerned that this law, instead of promoting good communication, is more about an underhanded way to coerce people into vaccinating.”
Many professionals argue the law does not go far enough to protect Oregon children. In neighboring states, bills are being introduced which would effectively abolish nonmedical vaccination exemptions.
How does your child’s school rank? Click here for the searchable database of over 1,700 Oregon school and child-care facilities ranked by their number of non-medical vaccination exemptions.