Parents who want to opt their children out of the vaccinations required to enter school will have to clear a new hurdle in Oregon. A new measure passed by the state Senate this week will make it more difficult for parents to obtain a non-medical vaccination exemption by requiring them first to attend a medical consultation or watch an informational video before their request is granted.
The Senate passed the bill by a vote of 16-13 along party lines with Democrats voting in favor. Republican opponents criticized the bill for taking choice away from parents, and a competing proposal that would have allowed parents to opt out because of "sincerely held religious beliefs" failed to get enough votes and failed.
When the current proposal passed in the Senate, Jeff Kruse, a Republican, said that it represented an unjustified government intrusion into the life of the family. He noted that parents – not lawmakers – should have the final say on the medical decisions for their children.
Other critics said that the bill violates the religious freedoms of Oregon parents who choose not to vaccinate their kids because it conflicts with their beliefs.
Currently schools in Oregon have vaccination requirements, but parents can bypass them for both health and religious reasons. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Oregon has the highest rates of parents taking advantage of various exemptions to keep their children from receiving vaccinations.
Current state law requires all children in public and private schools, preschools and certified child care facilities to be immunized. Parents, however, can seek exemptions for medical or religious reasons.
"I worry that most people who use the religious exemption currently are doing so because of pseudo-scientific misinformation, and not because of their faith," said Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, a Beaverton Democrat and family physician.
The measure would place the burden on parents to prove that they've either consulted a physician or watched a video explaining the importance of vaccinations before an exemption based on religious belief is granted. The required video will contain information that is consistent with the medical advice on shots provided by the CDC.
Doctors and public health officials back the plan, saying the rate of unvaccinated children in Oregon is alarming and could cause a resurgence of vaccine-preventable diseases like whooping cough and measles.
Similar legislation was passed in Washington in 2011. The following school year, the rate of religious immunization exemptions for kindergartners fell by almost 25 percent, according to CDC data.