Statesman Journal
By Saeroom Yoo
May 4, 2015

Oregon kindergartners are getting their required school immunizations at a higher rate, the Oregon Public Health Division announced Friday. The rate at which the children have been “opted out” for nonmedical reasons has dropped for the first time in 15 years.

But the new opt-out rate, 5.8 percent, is still higher than what is optimal for public health. The Healthy People 2020 objective for kindergartners’ vaccination rate is 95 percent. The 2013-2014 nonmedical exemption rate was 7 percent, the nation’s worst at the time.

“We would like to see that rate decrease even further to make sure that children are protected,” said Stacy de Assis Matthews, Oregon Health Authority’s school law coordinator.

Oregon’s bucking the trend of declining vaccination rates this year could be attributed to the new rules requiring parents who wish to claim a nonmedical exemption to watch educational video modules about vaccines and infectious diseases or to have a conversation with their health care provider.

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Beaverton, cited preliminary findings of the data to the Senate health care committee in April, saying that she would back off her efforts to make school immunizations more difficult to avoid.

Steiner Hayward started the beginning of the legislative session hoping to remove the nonmedical exemption from Oregon’s school immunization policy but has since mellowed her approach as she faced staunch opposition from anti-vaccine activists and lost political support.

Her current focus, Senate Bill 895, would require schools to make available to parents their nonmedical exemption data, broken down by vaccine. She has said the information would equip parents to make health decisions if their household has a person with a compromised immune system or an infant who is too young to be fully immunized.

Last school year, when Oregon was ranked last in kindergarten immunization rates, 11 states reported nonmedical exemption rates of at least 4 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They included Arizona, Colorado, Idaho, Maine, Michigan and Vermont.

The updated state-by-state data from the CDC is expected around August or September. Individual school rates in Oregon will be available in June., (503) 399-6673 or follow at