Legislators talk vaccinations, school deadline approaches

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Legislators talk vaccinations, school deadline approaches

Published 7:13 p.m. PT Feb. 9, 2017 | Updated 11:07 a.m. PT Feb. 10, 2017

Vaccinations are back in the Oregon legislature.

After a one-year hiatus, there are three bills so far that touch on the subject. SB 579 addresses consent required before administering vaccinations. SB 580 would require written notice of vaccinations. SB 687 would clarify the definition “abuse” cannot include refusal or delaying of vaccination of a child.

“We see these bills as necessary steps to protect the rights of parents (and their families),” said Bob Snee, director and legislative policy consultant for Oregonians for Medical Freedom, a coalition that supports parents’ rights to be exempt from vaccinations.

Snee has been working on the bills presented to the legislature this session.

Concerning SB 687 and child abuse, Snee said he knows of parents who have been referred to the Department of Human Services for choosing to not vaccinate their children.

“How can someone exercising their rights be considered child abuse?” he said.

The subject is brought up as families approach School Exclusion Day. If school and child care vaccination records are not up-to-date on Feb. 15, the child will be sent home.

Under state law, all children in public and private schools, preschools, Head Start and certified child care facilities must have up-to-date documentation on their immunizations or have an exemption.

“Immunization is the best way to protect children against vaccine-preventable diseases such as whooping cough and measles,” said Stacy de Assis Matthews of the Oregon Health Authority. “It helps keep schools and the entire community safe and healthy.”

In 2016, local health departments sent 41,045 letters to parents and guardians informing them that their children needed immunizations to stay in school or child care, according to the health authority. A total of 6,995 children were kept out of school or child care until the necessary immunization information was turned in.

The history of immunizations in Oregon changed in 2015 with the passing of Senate Bill 895.

Under the bill, religious exemptions signed prior to March 1, 2014, were no longer valid. Parents are now required to turn in documentation of immunization or complete a new process for a nonmedical exemption prior to Exclusion Day.

Additionally, schools and children’s facilities are required to have immunization and exemption rates available at the main offices, on a website, and for parents on paper or electronic format.

When it comes to non-medical exemption rates for K-12 students in 2015-16,  Marion County had a rate of 3.1 percent and Polk County had a rate of 4 percent. These rates compare to the Oregon rate of 4.1 percent.

Dallas Community School had the highest percentage of at least one non-medical exemption in either Marion or Polk counties, coming in at 44 percent.

Bill Conlon, the interim director of the school, said Dallas Community School primarily serves home-schooled children.

Conlon said roughly 40 students are on site each week out of the 156 total enrolled.

It is common knowledge among the community that many parents are opposed to vaccinations, he said, and the requirements may be one of the reasons those parents decided to home school.

If children are sick, Conlon said, like any other school, they request the child stay home. If the child is sick at school, they contact the parents to take them home as soon as possible, which he said is easier with the school’s model and parent agreements than traditional schools can be.

 

No one can be turned away from a local health department because of the inability to pay for required vaccines. Many pharmacists can immunize children age 7 and older.

Additional information on school immunizations can be found at www.healthoregon.org/imm and individual districts’ websites.

Contact Natalie Pate at npate@StatesmanJournal.com, 503-399-6745, or follow her on Twitter @Nataliempate and Facebook at www.Facebook.com/nataliepatejournalist

*School-by-school and district data available in the online story on statesmanjournal.com.

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