Senate passes bill on vaccination education

Of the Associated Press

SALEM — A bill that would require parents to consult a physician about vaccines or watch an educational video before refusing them for their children passed the Oregon Senate in a party-line vote Thursday.

In a 16-13 vote, the Senate approved Senate Bill 132 after a fiery floor debate. It now goes to the House.

The measure would make it more difficult for parents to get nonmedical exemptions from vaccines for their children.

The bill riled Republicans who said it trampled on religious freedoms and limited parents’ choice.

“I'm getting very tired of this legislative assembly and this body taking away the choices of parents as to how they raise their kids,” said Sen. Jeff Kruse, a Roseburg Republican.

Republicans pitched an alternative proposal that would have left the current religious exemption rule unchanged, but the plan failed.

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.

Doctors and public health officials back the plan, saying the rate of unvaccinated children in Oregon is alarming and should be brought down.

Oregon now has the nation's highest rate of parents refusing vaccinations for their kindergartners for nonmedical reasons. This school year, 6.4 percent of Oregon kindergartners were exempted from at least one required vaccination, up from 5.8 percent last year. The median nonmedical exemption rate for kindergartners in the U.S. is 1.2 percent for the 2011-2012 school year, the most recent period for which national data was available, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Oregon, it's easy to decline vaccines for religious reasons. Parents now sign a form and their child can attend school without receiving the required vaccinations.

Under the bill, parents enrolling unvaccinated children in school would have to prove they consulted a physician for information or show verification they watched an online educational video about the risks and benefits of immunization. The educational material would be consistent with the most up-to-date medical information provided by the CDC.

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