Gov. John Kitzhaber’s signature is all that remains to be done before Oregon tightens its requirements for parents to opt out of vaccinations for their children.
Senate Bill 132, which the House passed on a 45-15 vote Wednesday, would take effect upon his signature.
The bill was in response to Oregon having the nation’s highest rate of kindergarteners opting out of immunizations for nonmedical reasons in 2012. That rate was 5.8 percent last year; the Oregon Health Authority reported it at 6.4 percent this year.
Rates were 4 percent in Marion County and 4.5 percent in Polk County, but as high as 15.2 percent in Wallowa County. In some individual schools, the rate was as high as 70 percent.
“This bill helps parents make an informed decision about whether they should have their child immunized or not,” said Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, a retired professor at Oregon Health & Science University and the bill’s floor manager.
The bill still allows a parent to sign a form requesting a nonmedical exemption based on religious or philosophical reasons, similar to what is done now.
But it creates a new “informed consent” requirement. The document must bear either the signature of a health professional, attesting that the parent has been informed of the benefits and risks of immunization, or a certificate that a parent has watched an educational video prepared by the state.
Exemptions for medical reasons remain in the law.
Greenlick said the bill is modeled on a Washington state law that resulted in halving the rate of nonmedical exemptions.
Rep. Vicki Berger, R-Salem, supported the bill. She said when her second grandchild was born, “it was the longest 12 hours of my life” because his lungs failed to function and he had to be placed in the intensive-care unit.
“He catches every bug that comes along,” Berger said of her grandson, now 7.
“Parents have lots of rights, and I am a defender of those rights. But my grandson has a right to be safe in his public school, too.”
Rep. Jason Conger, R-Bend, said immunizations against deadly diseases such as smallpox are justified — but not all immunizations required of children. He even questioned one immunization required against tetanus, which can develop from deep puncture wounds.
“I do not believe the justification is really there,” he said. “Most of these diseases that are mandated for immunizations to enroll your child in school are not deadly.”
According to a December 2012 listing by the National Conference of State Legislatures, all states except Mississippi and West Virginia allow exemptions for religious reasons. Oregon would join about 20 states allowing exemptions for other nonmedical reasons.
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