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Vaccination reporting bill should become law

You can be sure that many of the issues that got hashed out in the 2015 Oregon Legislature will stage return engagements during future legislative sessions.

Among them likely will be the issue of childhood vaccinations, an issue that prompted some passionate (and sometimes ugly) debate during the course of the 2015 session. The opposition was enough to persuade Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, a Democrat from Beaverton, to drop a proposal to remove all nonmedical exemptions for vaccines.

Instead, Steiner Hayward, a physician, wound up promoting Senate Bill 895, which requires schools to publish available immunization data. The bill (which also applies to other facilities that serve children) would require the information to be posted on school websites and also included as part of the school performance reports that are sent to parents and guardians.

That bill passed the Legislature, largely (but not completely) on party-line votes. It awaits the signature of Gov. Kate Brown, who hasn't given any indication that she plans to veto the bill, which is good: Senate Bill 895 makes sense and should be signed into law.

Steiner Hayward is clear about her motivation for the legislation: She wants to find ways to improve the state's rate of vaccination for children, which is too low. As that rate drops, it jeopardizes the herd immunity that helps to protect even people who aren't vaccinated.

Naturally, Senate Bill 895 attracted some of the same opponents who fought against eliminating the nonmedical exemptions. Some opponents of the bill claimed that the requirement to share the information could set the stage for a "social bullying atmosphere" at schools. "We're going to create gossip," said one opponent.

The argument struck us as a hollow one then, and it still seems that way. For starters, the information does not identify individual children, just overall vaccination rates. And this information already is publicly available through health authorities.

Another argument against the bill — that it provides only an incomplete picture of vaccination rates at any individual school — has somewhat more merit, but still is outweighed by the benefits of the measure. In some cases, parents elect to stretch out vaccination schedules to minimize any potential risk, no matter how slight; that would tend to depress a school's vaccination rate. Parents would need to take that into account as they analyze the numbers.

But all of the other measures included on a school's performance report are, by nature, incomplete: None of them tells the whole story about a school. They do, however, suggest areas where parents can start to ask questions about a particular school.

We understand why the vaccination issue tends to be emotional. And while our position on the issue is that parents should vaccinate their children, we are uncomfortable with the idea that government should force parents to vaccinate.

Senate Bill 895 doesn't do that. But it still has merit in offering another tool parents can use to help guide their informed decisions.