Immunizations decrease despite 2014 state law
Despite a 2014 law that aimed at boosting vaccination rates, the statewide rate for nonmedical exemptions to mandatory kindergarten vaccinations has continued to rise.
The rate hit 7.5 percent this year, higher than the 7-percent rate in 2014 when the law was passed to address declining vaccination rates among the state's more than 750,000 schoolchildren.
Health care providers play a crucial role in educating parents about the need for vaccinations, said Stacy de Assis Matthews, immunization law coordinator for the Oregon Health Authority's Oregon Immunization Program.
Education efforts face a daunting popular culture belief that immunizations can cause autism and other problems.
The 2014 law — which required parents to jump through more hoops to obtain a nonmedical exemption — initially decreased the nonmedical exemption rate from 7 percent to 5.8 percent in 2015, the first year the law took effect. But the following year, the rate began to climb again, first to 6.2 percent in 2016, then to 6.5 percent in 2017 and now, to 7.5 percent.
"While more nonmedical exemptions mean fewer children are being immunized, the vast majority of Oregon parents and guardians still choose to fully immunize their children," de Assis Matthews said. "Most parents and guardians know that immunization is still the best way
to protect children against vaccine-prevent-
able diseases such as whooping cough and measles."
Nonmedical exemption rates in 2018 for students in grades K-12 ranged from a low of 1 percent in Morrow County to a high of 10 percent in Josephine County.
Columbia County's rate of nonmedical vaccination exemptions was 6 percent, according to state data.
Scappoose School District Nurse Brenda VanDomelen commented on some of her observations regarding student vaccines and parental education.
"I most often find that when I encounter the subject of not vaccinating, not everyone has accurate information, in fact many times I have encountered, especially in social media, the spreading of innaccurate information regarding the safety and necessity of vaccinations as a means of preventing childhood disease," VanDomelen said in an email to the Spotlight. "It is unfortunate as the safety in numbers begins to decrease the protective factor for those unable to be vaccinated, by those numbers choosing not to be vaccinated."
Sauvie Island School, which is geographically located in Multnomah County but is a charter school sponsored by the Scappoose School District in Columbia County, reported a rate of nonmedical exemptions for the school year at 20 percent. Warren Elementary School reported a rate of 6 percent.
Van Domelen explained that in some instances, like at Warren Elementary, smaller student populations and exemptions for specific vaccines can sometimes skew the data.
In some instances numbers are skewed because of out-of-state student transfers or students who are not up to date on booster shots for some vaccines, VanDomelen added.
"Every school year, I work hard at getting letters out to parents in the attempt at getting all kids compliant before exclusion time in [Februray]," VanDomelen said. "I would love to see that changed so that there isn't such a long time between school starting and exclusion."
Individual school and child care rates are available on OHA's School Immunization Coverage webpage.
— Spotlight reporter Nicole Thill-Pacheco contributed to this story.