Fewer Oregon parents or guardians sought nonmedical exemptions to the state’s school immunization requirements over the last year, according to new data published by the Oregon Public Health Division.
The division’s Oregon Immunization Program found that 5.8 percent of all kindergarteners – 2,693 students – claimed religious, philosophical or other nonmedical exemption to one or more required vaccines. That’s down from 7 percent, or 3,331 students, in 2014, and represents a 17 percent decline.
State law requires that all children in public and private schools, preschools, Head Start and certified child care facilities have up-to-date documentation on their immunizations, or have an exemption.
Public health officials believe the drop in the exemption rate is due to passage of Senate Bill 132A, which was signed into law on June 26, 2013, and went into effect on March 1, 2014. The legislation changes the process for claiming a nonmedical exemption to school and child care immunization requirements.
Parents or guardians choosing a nonmedical exemption are now required to submit to the school or childcare a document showing either a signature from a health care practitioner verifying discussion of the benefits and risks of immunization, or a certificate of completion of an interactive online educational video about the benefits and risks of immunization.
Similar laws in surrounding states have led to swift and significant drops in nonmedical exemption claims: In California, the rate fell 19 percent, while Washington saw a 25 percent decline.
“What Oregon’s new data tell me is that parents and guardians are making truly informed decisions about vaccinations,” said Stacy de Assis Matthews, school law coordinator with the Oregon Immunization Program.
Matthews says it’s not known how, or whether, changes implemented as a result of SB 132A affected parents’ and guardians’ decisions to get their children vaccinated.
“But I believe that the education provided through health care providers and the online module helped many parents realize that the benefits of immunizations far outweighed any risks,” she said.
How Oregon’s vaccination exemption rate compares nationally won’t be known until August or September, when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention releases its report on all states’ exemption rates.
The latest exemption data were compiled after School Exclusion Day, Feb. 18, 2015. That is the date by which parents or guardians were required to provide up-to-date immunization or exemption documentation to their children’s schools.
Vaccination exemption rates by individual school will be available in early June.
Additional information on school immunizations can be found at the Immunization Program website at www.healthoregon.org/imm
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