Nonmedical vaccine exemptions at all time high for kindergarten age kids
The nonmedical vaccine exemption rate for kindergarten-age children has risen sharply according to a report issued by the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) Tuesday. An OHA analysis shows an increase in nonmedical exemptions from 5.8 percent of kindergarten-age children in 2015 to 7.5 percent of children in 2018.
In Woodburn, Heritage Elementary and Valor Middle School have been identified by OHA as being more vulnerable due to high rates of nonmedical vaccine exemptions.
Woodburn School District Superintendent Chuck Ransom said the district was not aware of any increase in vaccine preventable diseases in district schools, but the increase in nonmedical exemptions was a concern for the district.
"We want to make sure our kids stay healthy, and remain healthy later in life," Ransom said.
The district educates parents about the importance of vaccination, and will exclude students if parents or guardians do not follow state guidelines for receiving nonmedical exemptions.
"We give parents all the information we can. We let them know that vaccines are well documented and that's the best we can do. We follow state law. Our hands are tied," Ransom said.
The state identifies schools as safest if 95 to 100 percent of students are fully vaccinated, moderately vulnerable if 90 to 94 percent are fully vaccinated, more vulnerable if 80 to 89 percent are fully vaccinated, and most vulnerable if less than 80 percent of students are fully vaccinated.
Heritage Elementary has 886 students enrolled, 81 percent of whom received all required vaccines. 147 students, 17 percent of the student body, had nonmedical exemptions for all vaccines, and zero students had medical exemptions.
Valor Middle School has 653 students enrolled, of whom 90 percent received all required vaccines. 47 students, 7 percent of the student body, had nonmedical exemptions for all vaccines, and one student had a medical exemption.
Several local private schools were also identified as having low vaccination rates. Gethsemane Christian Academy was identified as more vulnerable, while Elliot Prairie Christian School in Woodburn and Holy Family Academy in Mt. Angel were identified as being most vulnerable with 38 percent and 77 percent of students fully vaccinated respectively. According to OHA's analysis the majority of schools with nonmedical exemptions below 80 percent are private schools.
Vaccines required by Oregon schools include measles, diphtheria, tetanus, pertussis, mumps, rubella, hepatitis A and B, polio and chickenpox.
In 2015 Oregon rates of kindergarten-age children receiving nonmedical vaccine exemptions fell sharply from 7 percent to 5.8 percent following the implementation of a new law that requires parents and guardians to take steps to claim nonmedical exemptions. However, that decrease reversed in 2015 and rates increased each following year. The exemption rate has now risen higher than it was when the law addressing declining vaccination rates was passed in 2013.
Medical exemptions exist for children who have autoimmune conditions, immune cancers, genetic mutations or a family history of allergic reactions to specific vaccines. Nonmedical exemptions are provided for parents or guardians who have a personal, religious or philosophical opposition to vaccination.
Parents who wish to obtain nonmedical exemptions must either watch an educational video on the Oregon Health Authority website and submit a certificate of completion or talk to a health care practitioner and have the practitioner sign a Vaccine Education Certificate, according to the OHA.
According to the OHA's Public Health Accountability Metrics from March 2018, Marion County has a vaccination rate for two-year olds of 69 percent, which is below OHA's benchmark goal of 80 percent. However, no county in Oregon has met OHA's 80 percent benchmark, and only Malheur, Morrow and Yamhill counties have rates of 70 percent and above.
Marion County has experienced an overall decrease in the common vaccine preventable disease Pertussis, or whooping cough, since 2012, but an outbreak in the Salem-Keizer school district in 2015 sickened 21 students at two schools, according to the county's community health assessment from 2017. Pertussis is a highly contagious disease caused by the bacterium Bordetella pertussis, according to the Centers for Disease Control. The disease is easily preventable by childhood vaccinations.
Pertussis takes its name for the sound of the coughing fits it produces, which are violent and uncontrollable, cause vomiting and gagging, and pose a serious risk of death to infants. Pertussis most commonly affects babies and young children according to the Oregon Health Authority. From 2003 to 2015 children under 10-years-old accounted for 51 percent of pertussis cases, and five infants died from the disease. In Lane County this year 12 students at Sheldon Public High School in Eugene contracted pertussis.
Administrators at Legacy Health Silverton Medical Center, which operates a primary care clinic in Woodburn, continue to see an overall decrease in rates of pertussis and other vaccine preventable diseases, according to public relations contact for Silverton Medical Melinda Avila.