Bill publishes school vaccination rates
SALEM — In an effort to tackle the high number of students using nonmedical waivers to opt out of vaccinations, Oregon Senators approved a measure Tuesday requiring all schools to publish their immunization rates and to break out the rates by disease.
Data show 5.8 percent of the state's kindergarten students have opted out of one or more vaccines, and state health officials have expressed worries some schools won't be able to achieve "herd immunity," which protects children who aren't vaccinated by surrounding them with people who are immune.
Legislation introduced earlier this year would have eliminated all nonmedical exemptions to vaccines. But it died in committee after encountering vehement opposition from parents who said it usurped their parental rights.
So Beaverton Democrat Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward introduced a new measure making public each school's vaccination rates, a move that she said is designed to help parents know which schools have low immunization rates and whether their school has achieved herd immunity. The information would have to be posted on the school's website and in the main office.
"This bill is about parental rights. Parents have the right now to exempt their children from immunizations for any reason they so choose. But parents who can't immunize their children have no right to know what the immunization rates are in their child's school," Steiner Hayward said.
The Oregon Health Authority publishes the state's vaccination rates, but it doesn't break out the immunizations by disease and is difficult to find, Steiner Hayward said.
The bill's opponents argued it would only give parents partial information about the school's vaccination rates because it doesn't track which teachers and staff members have been fully immunized. Others have also argued it could lead to bullying and shaming parents who opt out of some vaccines.
"The problem is, you're not going to get all the information. You're probably going to get about 80 percent of the information, and if you don't use that correctly it can be misleading" said Sen. Tim Knopp, a Bend Republican.
Other legislative efforts to increase the immunization rate appear to be working. A drop in the number of kindergarten students who filed for nonmedical exemptions for this school year is likely tied to a 2013 law requiring parents seeking an exemption to talk to a doctor or watch an online video about the benefits of vaccines. That law went into effect last March.
The bill passed the Senate 19-10. It now heads to the House.