Vaccinating Oregon’s schoolchildren: stats behind the scare

Vaccinating Oregon’s schoolchildren: stats behind the scare

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.

Facts clarifying flu vaccine myths

Facts clarifying flu vaccine myths

Flu season is approaching, which means many people will be getting the influenza vaccine, but the vaccine brings about controversy. Many will refuse to get vaccinated, because they believe the vaccine is not worth it, or even worry it does more damage than good.

Caroline King-Widdall, a family physician currently practicing at Kaiser Permanente Skyline Medical Office in Salem, said she wants people to understand the difference between the myths and facts of the flu vaccine.

“The facts are that influenza is a serious illness,” Widdall said. “Every year, the U.S. sees as many as 49,000 flu-related deaths, most of them people older than 65. Flu can be especially serious among young children, older adults and people with chronic health conditions such as asthma, heart disease or diabetes.”

She also said even for healthy children the flu carries a risk of serious complications. The Centers of Disease recommends that almost everyone over 6 months of age should get vaccinated.

Widdall shared the truth behind some common flu vaccine myths:

Flu shots give you a case of the flu: “This simply isn’t possible because the virus in flu vaccine is either killed or inactivated,” Widdall said. Some may feel achy or feverish after an immunization for a few hours, but that is caused by the immune system being stimulated.

You’ve never had the flu, so you don’t need a flu shot: This does not guarantee your health in the future. “Protecting yourself from flu also helps safeguard the vulnerable people around you, including older adults, people with chronic health conditions, young children and infants,” Widdall said.

You got the shotinfluenza last year so you don’t have to get it this year: “Flu viruses mutate every year, and a person’s immune protection from vaccination declines over time,” Widdall said. It is vital to get an update immunization for the best protection.

One year you had a flu shot and got the flu anyway: Widdall said if this happens you may have been vaccinated too late, or that you may have caught another kind of virus. The vaccination takes about two weeks to become effective.

Once you had the shot and still got stomach flu: Widdall said many people think the flu causes symptoms such as nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea, but it is actually a respiratory disease, which rarely causes digestive issues.

Flu vaccines can cause autism in children: “This mistaken belief is based on a concern about thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative,” Widdall said. “The extremely low amounts of thimerosal in these vials may cause minor redness and swelling at the injection site. But the safety of thimerosal use in vaccines has been confirmed by the CDC, FDA and National Institutes of Health — as well as the independent National Academy of Sciences’ Institute of Medicine, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the American Academy of Pediatrics.”