It will now be more difficult for Oregon parents to get exemptions from mandatory vaccinations for children enrolling in schools, thanks to a new law recently approved by Oregon Gov. John Kitzhaber (D). The policy was designed as a response to Oregon’s extraordinarily high rates of unvaccinated children.
Under the new law, which took effect immediately, parents who seek exemptions for their children will have to visit a doctor or watch an educational video and sign a document stating they understand the risks involved. Previously, parents simply had to sign a form citing adherence to a religion or “any other system of beliefs” that opposed vaccination.
“I’ve seen babies die from whooping cough. I’ve seen children go deaf from measles, all because people had inaccurate beliefs about immunizations. Our children deserve better than that,” said state Sen. Elizabeth Hayward (D), a physician and primary sponsor of the bill. She celebrated its passage as “a triumph of science over fear-mongering.”
Anti-vaccination trends have caused outbreaks of preventable diseases as recently as last year, by reducing levels of herd immunity and making populations more susceptible to the spread of disease. Numerous studies have shown a causal relationship between low vaccination rates and outbreaks of preventable disease. Oregon has the highest rate of unvaccinated children in the nation, far above the national average of 1.2 percent.
Oregon’s new law preserves non-medical exemptions for any reason as long as they pass the new barriers, while eliminating religious belief as the primary criteria for doing so. Medical exemptions have been and will continue to be permitted with a physician’s authorization.
Washington state passed a similar law over a year ago, after experiencing the nation’s worst outbreak of whooping cough in 50 years. In the year following the law’s passage, the rate of children receiving non-medical exemptions dropped by 25 percent. Previously, the state also had one of the nation’s largest rates of unvaccinated children, peaking at 7.6 percent in 2008-09.
Kumar Ramanathan is an intern at ThinkProgress.