SALEM — A bipartisan bill to remove nonmedical exemptions for vaccinations required for children attending public schools was introduced in the House on Friday.
House Bill 3063 would remove personal, philosophical and religious reasons as grounds for granting exemptions from vaccinations.
Children would not be forced to be vaccinated, but would not be allowed to attend public schools if their parents refused to have them vaccinated.
The move occurs after an outbreak of measles in Washington that spread to Oregon, sickening at least 70 children so far. Four children in Oregon have been diagnosed with measles.
The outbreak of measles this year was linked to children who had intentionally not been vaccinated. Oregon has the highest rate in the nation of kindergartners who have not been vaccinated for non-medical reasons, according to the Oregon Health Authority.
The bill was drafted by Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, with Rep. Cheri Helt, R-Bend, and Sen. Chuck Thomsen, R-Hood River, as chief co-sponsors.
“I believe in science, the safety of our children and in sensible, fact-based public policy,” Helt said. “We should close this loophole that places children, families and communities at risk of illness and death from diseases that were nearly eliminated just a generation ago.”
Gov. Kate Brown would sign the bill if passed by the Legislature, according to Kate Kondayen, a spokesperson for the governor.
A measles vaccine has been available since 1963, and a combined measles-mumps-rubella vaccine since 1971. According to the Centers for Disease Control, from 1958 to 1962, the United States averaged 503,282 cases and 432 deaths associated with measles each year. By 1982, the CDC reported a record low 1,697 cases.
But beginning in the late 1990s, an increasing number of parents opted against vaccinating their children. Some believed vaccinations were linked to an increase in the number of children diagnosed with autism spectrum disorder.
The Oregon Health Authority reported earlier this month that the percentage of students in public schools who have exemptions rose from just over 1 percent in 1998 to 7 percent in 2018.
A number of medical studies have been published that refute a tie between vaccinations and autism. The CDC website says, “Some parents might worry that the vaccine causes autism. Signs of autism typically appear around the same time that children are recommended to receive the MMR vaccine. Vaccine safety experts, including experts at CDC and the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), agree that MMR vaccine is not responsible for increases in the number of children with autism.”
Despite the findings, groups advocating for parental choice, known as “anti-vaxxers” in political circles, have been successful in keeping nonmedical exemptions in the state law.
Proponents of HB 3063 say that parents who opt out put children at risk.
“Responsible citizens do not have the right to risk the safety of others, particularly children, due to misinformation and fear,” Helt said. “This proposal will save lives and will combat the disgraced idea that medically safe vaccinations pose a greater risk to public health than the dangerous diseases that they are proven to prevent.”
The bill follows action in Washington, where the Health Care and Wellness Committee has approved House Bill 1638. If passed, it bans personal or philosophical exemptions for the MMR vaccine.
The Washington Senate has introduced Senate Bill 5841, which would extend the ban to cover all school-mandated vaccines, not just the one for measles.
Before the measles outbreak, the Oregon Legislature was considering bills that would have tightened requirements for parents who wanted to opt-out of vaccinations. House Bill 2783, now before the House Health Care Committee, would require a parent who declines immunization for their child to submit documents to school administrators that includes a health care practitioner’s signed statement verifying that the dangers of not immunizing the child have been explained. It requires parents to complete an educational program on immunizations as a condition of a child’s attendance at school or other children’s facility.
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