by Sara Beaudrault
In Oregon, we celebrate all the little things that make us special. We have more ghost towns than any other state in the country. We’re one of only two states where someone still pumps our gas for us. And we’re the only state in the nation that has an official state nut. (It’s the hazelnut, by the way).
But when we’re talking about our children’s health, there’s one fact about Oregon that makes us worry, not celebrate. In Oregon, more parents of kindergartners sign exemptions to school- and childcare-required vaccines than in any other state in the nation.
Exemption rates in Oregon have steadily crept up over the past decade, with greater than six percent of kindergartners having an exemption to at least one vaccine during the 2012-13 school year. Some counties have exemption rates as high as 15 percent! People in these communities are at risk, should a vaccine-preventable disease strike their area.
A new law went into effect on March 1, 2014. The hope is that it will slow this trend.
This new nonmedical exemption law changes the process for parents who choose to exempt their child from vaccines required for school and childcare attendance. Parents now must provide documentation that they have received information about vaccine risks and benefits before signing an exemption. Oregon is among the first states in the nation to strengthen existing exemption laws by requiring parents to review science-based immunization information before signing an exemption.
“We want to make sure parents and guardians receive science-based information about the benefits and risks of vaccine,” said Stacy de Assis Matthews, school law coordinator for the Oregon Health Authority’s Public Health Division Immunization Program. “There is a lot of misinformation out there.”
The nonmedical exemption law gives parents two choices for receiving vaccine education. They can talk to a healthcare practitioner, who can sign a Vaccine Education Certificate. Or parents can view an online vaccine education module and print a vaccine Education Certificate at the end of the module. Whichever option they choose, parents must turn the Vaccine Education Certificate in at their child’s school or childcare, along with the Certificate of Immunization Status.
“We hope this law serves to strengthen existing relationships between parents and their healthcare providers,” says Lydia Emer, Oregon Immunization Program manager. “Most parents trust their child’s healthcare provider, and will follow their recommendations. This law provides another opportunity for parents who have concerns about vaccines to talk to their provider.”
The online vaccine education module is a great option for parents who would prefer to receive their Vaccine Education Certificate online, or whose healthcare provider does not supply this Certificate. Although the online module has only been available since March 1, early feedback from parents and clinic staff has been overwhelmingly positive.
Oregon’s new nonmedical law affects so many in Oregon: parents, students, people who can’t be vaccinated, and babies too young to be vaccinated. If all of us who work in schools, healthcare settings, or more broadly in the field of immunizations pull together, Oregon’s nonmedical exemption law will effectively reduce our state’s exemption rates. Because when it comes to exemption rates, we don’t want to be so special.
Want to learn more about the new nonmedical exemption process? Information and resources for parents, healthcare providers, and school and childcare staff are available at www.healthoregon.org/vaccineexemption. And stay tuned for next week’s ImmiNews article for the “Top 10 Questions About Nonmedical Exemptions, Answered.”