February 17, 2015

The Oregon Senate Committee on Health Care [official website] is scheduled to hear testimony on a bill [SB 422, PDF] that would limit the option for parents to receive non-medical exemptions from school vaccinations. Sponsored by state Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward [official profile] (D-Portland), this bill seeks to amend the current process for claiming non-medical exemptions to school immunizations laid out in a law [SB 132, PDF] that became effective last year. The existing process only requires the parents to prove that they had discussed the risk and benefits of vaccination with a health care provider or watched an interactive educational video. Seven percent [Statesman Journal report] of Oregon kindergartners had non-medical exemptions for the 2013-2014 school year, the highest rate in the country. If this bill passes, it will make Oregon’s vaccine exemption policies among the strictest in the nation. Similarly, California senators are also considering legislation [JURIST report] in the wake of the Disneyland measles outbreak that would require parents to vaccinate their schoolchildren.

Childhood vaccination and the potential harm of vaccination to children has been a topic of debate in America in recent years. Much of this debate revolves around the alleged link between certain vaccines and autism. In August 2010 the US Court of Appeals for the Federal Circuit upheld a decision finding insufficient evidence [JURIST report] to link childhood vaccines and autism in three cases. The decision was consistent with 18 major scientific studies [JURIST op-ed], which have failed to show a link between vaccines and the widely-diagnosed neurodevelopmental disorder. In February 2011 the US Supreme Court ruled that the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act of 1986 provides blanket immunity [JURIST report] to vaccine manufacturers from all tort actions filed in state or federal court alleging design defects. In May 2013 the Supreme Court ruled [JURIST report] that even for an untimely petition filed under the National Childhood Vaccine Injury Act, a petitioner may recover attorneys fees as long as the claim was filed in good faith and there is a reasonable basis. Last month a federal appeals court upheld [JURIST report] a New York state rule barring unimmunized children from public schools.