Guest Columnist
March 4, 2015

If you haven’t yet heard of Senate Bill 442–3 here in Oregon, you probably will very soon. The bill, sponsored by State Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, is sitting in the Oregon Legislature’s Senate Committee on Health Care and, if passed in its current form, would do something best described as “draconian”: it would remove all philosophical and religious exemptions from parental choice to vaccinate, effectively mandating vaccines and full compliance with a 23 shot schedule for any Oregonian who wants to send their children to school. Two states in the union do this today, Mississippi and West Virginia, and the bill sponsors hope Oregon will be the third.

If you are expecting some anti-vaccination rant, you’ve come to the wrong place. Vaccines are incredibly important to public health. They have saved millions of lives. The authors of this article have vaccinated their own children. However, a mandate to vaccinate in full compliance with a schedule the state sets and can add to at anytime is taking things too far, in our opinion, and we strongly oppose this bill. Parents simply must have the final say in the medical care of their children, no matter what and in 100% of the cases in a free society, and we feel this bill is a genuine infringement on the civil rights of all Oregonians. How dare these bill sponsors give the legislature the permanent right to keep adding vaccines to the schedule and making parents give them all to their children without any discretion?

(As an aside, Oregon is only one of 15 states in the U.S. that mandates Hep A vaccine. We don’t know about you but we care a lot more about avoiding measles and a lot less about avoiding Hepatitis A, and we don’t really feel like giving up the choice to decide which vaccines we give our children.)

On Saturday, we wrote an extensive post about Oregon’s actual vaccination rates and recent experience with Vaccine Preventable Disease outbreaks. We’re gratified that more than 5,000 have already found our article worth reading. The long and the short of that article, with data utilized entirely from Oregon’s Health Authority and the CDC, was very clear:

  • Oregon meets or exceeds national averages for vaccination rates for every vaccine on the schedule
  • Oregon has not had a major outbreak of a Vaccine Preventable Disease in decades
  • An over-stated “exemption” rate where a child getting 22 out of 23 vaccines and a child getting no vaccines are both labeled “unvaccinated” by the state is creating endless confusion
  • In the recent “Disneyland” measles media frenzy, Oregon had exactly one confirmed case of measles, a rate of 1 in 3,900,000 people (and that person, an adult, recovered)
  • Perhaps the capper of our entire piece was a slide we got our hands on written by the former head of the Oregon Immunization Program accurately bragging about the state of affairs here in Oregon (the slide is from 3 years ago):

“Record low VPDs” (Vaccine Preventable Disease)? “Achieved and sustained high childhood immunization [rates]”? This doesn’t sound like Oregon has an emergency. Really, the presentation was and is very accurate: Oregon is doing a great job of immunizing its children and the lack of any outbreaks of VPDs supports this.

Confusingly, the authors of Senate Bill 442–3 claim that the removal of vaccine exemptions in Oregon is necessary right now because there is an “emergency.” We don’t see it that way, we sure don’t see an emergency, and we think after reading the rest of this article you’ll agree that we should all be asking the same question:

Who cried wolf here in Oregon?

An “emergency” measure on the part of the legislature is not a trivial thing. According to the state legislature:

The regular effective date of a measure is January 1 of the year following passage of the measure. Some measures may contain a provision, such as an emergency clause, that specifies an earlier effective date.

SB442–3 has an emergency clause and it would take effect immediately. Which got us to thinking—where did the trigger for this bill come from, what agency or group sounded the alarm?

Two places came to mind immediately:

  1. Oregon Health Authority

The Oregon Health Authority has the job of keeping us healthy. They respond to outbreaks. This slide is produced by the Oregon Health Authority, and shows no measles outbreaks in Oregon in more than 20 years:

The Oregon Health Authority tracks, manages, and encourages immunizations. It seemed most obvious that they must have been behind SB442–3, so we reached out to them to find out what they knew that all Oregonians should be aware of and why this “emergency” measure is so important.

Some of the thoughts that came to mind when we thought about contacting the OHA included:

  • Perhaps they are seeing a disease outbreak that hasn’t been reported?
  • Perhaps vaccination rates have dropped off a cliff somewhere?
  • We also wondered how they felt about SB442–3 not including teachers—it seemed like the concerns around herd immunity rang hollow if teachers weren’t also mandated to get fully vaccinated.
  • The sponsors of SB442–3 have stated repeatedly that parents signing vaccine exemptions in Oregon are not watching a module they are required to watch. We presumed OHA had the data to prove this lack of viewership. Could they share the data with us?

So, we fired off an email to their media liaison, it went like this:

We are writing an article for and on deadline to do it. We had a few quick questions for Oregon Health Authority regrading Senate Bill 442–3 that would eliminate philosophical exemptions and religious exemptions from vaccines.

Did OHA initiate this legislation? Was OHA seeing an uptick in disease or material change in immunization rates to trigger the bill? If so, can you direct us to corroborative data?

Does OHA believe teachers need to be added to the bill? Can herd immunity be maintained if teachers/admin/adults in a school setting not up to date on vaccinations?

The bill sponsors have talked about how the current vaccine program in Oregon isn’t working and that parents are not watching the modules on the computer. Does OHA have data to support this claim?

Thank you very much. Happy to call if that is more efficient.

The OHA was very responsive, they got right back to us, a credit to a well-run organization, but their answer really surprised us because…well, because they didn’t actually answer even one of our perfectly reasonable questions:

OHA Communications forwarded me your request, as I handle all media inquiries for the OHA’s Public Health Division.

All questions about Senate Bill 442 should go to the bill’s sponsor, Senator Steiner-Hayward.

2. Oregon Department of Education

The Oregon Department of Education seemed like the other possible source for an emergency measure. While we didn’t know of any VPD epidemics in Oregon schools or any other public health risks, it sure would make sense that the Department of Education could have a reason to declare an emergency, so we reached out to the office of the top dog in Oregon, Rob Saxton, the Deputy Superintendent. We wrote:

We’re writing an article for about Senate Bill 442–3 currently proposed by Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward. The bill would remove all philosophical and religious exemptions from vaccine mandates, so that if a child received anything less than the 23 shots mandated by Oregon, they would be ineligible to attend public or private school.

We’re curious if the superintendent has taken a position on the legislation? Was he the one who sounded the alarm for the need for this legislation? Trying to understand where the information used to create this bill came from?

If there is no official position on the bill, we’d still welcome some background on the bill and/or any perspective you could provide us with.

Thank you!

Again, we felt it was a fair set of questions and eagerly awaited a reply, which also came very quickly and responsively:

This bill was not initiated or driven by ODE and as I mentioned earlier, we have not taken a position on it. This is an issue that is of particular interest to Senator Steiner Hayward and she would be best able to speak to the background, context, and purpose of the bill. I would recommend contacting her office directly if you have not already done so.

Hard stop. We now know who cried wolf.

Perhaps the question to answer in our next post will be, “why”?

**For the companion article to this, please read: The Truth About Oregon’s Vaccination Rates and Senate Bill 442–3 This article contains considerably more data from the Oregon Health Authority and CDC.

This article was written by several well-meaning Oregonians who are big fans of medical freedom and informed consent who apparently have nothing better to do than crunch numbers. We have nothing to gain or lose financially from the passage of this bill. We have proudly joined a movement of a few thousand Oregonians fighting this legislation, the organizing website can be found here: