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Bill to ban most vaccine exemptions is dropped

SALEM — Legislation aiming to pressure Oregon parents to get their kids vaccinated was abandoned Wednesday because of formidable opposition in a state that has the nation's highest rate of nonmedical exemptions, a move that comes as several other states wrestle with similar proposals.

The bill, which had the support of Gov. Kate Brown, would have made Oregon the third state in the country allowing exemptions for immunizations solely for medical reasons, and no longer for religious, philosophical or personal reasons. Mississippi and West Virginia are currently the only other states that have comparable legislation in place.

The Oregon bill's sponsor, state Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, said pushback against it largely revolved around who was right or wrong about the benefits of vaccines and she has decided not to pursue the legislation.

"She strongly believes that making personal choices such as whether or not to vaccinate children are largely a matter of privacy, but — as with all matters of personal choice — we have to be certain that our choices don't impinge on our neighbors' health and well-being," said Paige Spence, Steiner Hayward's chief of staff.

A handful of other states have been considering similar bills eliminating personal and philosophical exemptions to vaccinations as dozens of people across the country fell ill from a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland in December. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 142 people from seven states, including one from Oregon and two from Washington, were linked to the outbreak.

In February, three California lawmakers introduced legislation that would require parents to vaccinate their children before they enter school unless they can't for medical reasons. That bill has yet to come up before a committee, though Gov. Jerry Brown has suggested he'll support it.

In Vermont, which is in the top three states for people taking the exemption, a group of lawmakers announced plans last month to introduce legislation eliminating the philosophical exemptions for parents who don't want their kids immunized, though a similar effort failed three years ago. In Maine, two bills, one removing philosophical exemptions and one that aims to make it harder for parents to get that exemption, are awaiting a public hearing.

It wasn't clear whether sufficient support exists for a similar bill in Washington removing personal or philosophical opposition to vaccines, but the bill was at risk of dying Wednesday because it had not yet been pulled to the floor for a chamber vote in advance of a key deadline.

Last year, Oregon passed a law requiring parents with kindergartners to consult with a health professional or watch a one-hour educational video before shots are waived. Steiner Hayward, who also sponsored that bill, said she'd heard parents were only going through the motions of watching the video when they attended consultations, which is why she sought to strengthen the state's immunizations requirements.

This year's measure drew heated testimony from parents who argued it took away their medical freedom and right to informed consent. The bill was pulled before it got a committee vote, though it did get a public hearing.

"The fundamental issue was that of informed consent. We're supportive of safe and effective vaccinations. We're not anti-vaccine. We're pro-informed consent," said Vern Saboe, a chiropractor from Albany who testified against the bill.

An oral vaccine is given to 6-month-old James Noland of Salem at Childhood Health Associates of Salem on Thursday, Feb. 12. AP PHOTO.