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State says new law leads to drop in school vaccination exemptions

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TRIBUNE FILE PHOTO - The Oregon Public Health Division says a 2013 law could be the reason 17 percent fewer parents are seeking exemptions to the state's school immunization rules.The number of parents and others seeking nonmedical exemptions to Oregon’s school immunization rules dropped by about 17 percent this year, according to a new report by the Oregon Public Health Division.

The Oregon Immunization Program reported that 5.8 percent of all kindergarteners — 2,693 students — claimed religious, philosophical or other nonmedical exemption to one or more required vaccines. That’s down from 7 percent, or 3,331 students, in 2014, and represents a 17 percent decline, according to the agency.

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

Public health officials believe the drop in the exemption rate is due to passage of 2013’s Senate Bill 132A that changes the process for claiming a nonmedical exemption to school and child care immunization requirements.

Parents or guardians choosing a nonmedical exemption are required to submit a document showing either a signature from a health care practitioner verifying discussion of the benefits and risks of immunization, or a certificate of completion of an interactive online educational video about the benefits and risks of immunization.

A similar law in Washington led to a 25 percent decline in nonmedical exemptions. In California, exemptions dropped 19 percent.

“What Oregon’s new data tell me is that parents and guardians are making truly informed decisions about vaccinations,” said Stacy de Assis Matthews, school law coordinator with the Oregon Immunization Program.

“I believe that the education provided through health care providers and the online module helped many parents realize that the benefits of immunizations far outweighed any risks.”

The exemption data were compiled after the Feb. 18 deadline for vaccinations. After that time, parents and others were required to provide up-to-date immunization or exemption documentation to their children’s schools.