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Steiner Hayward Wants Stronger Vaccine Law For Seventh Graders

A 2013 law designed to require informed consent for any parents opting out of vaccinations for their children has not worked as intended -- it’s been interpreted as applying to only new students -- compelling lawmakers to ask for a new law that will net all children entering public schools in the 7th grade.
January 26, 2015

The 2015 session will feature a new bill designed to tighten the vaccination exemptions for school children and protect the public against infectious disease after a 2013 law failed to do what lawmakers had intended.

Senate Bill 132 was designed to reverse one of Oregon’s more dubious feats -- the state has the lowest vaccination rate in the nation. The bill requires parents who don’t want their kids to be vaccinated to either watch an educational state video on the topic or have a healthcare provider sign a letter acknowledging the parents’ informed consent to opt out.

But Attorney General Ellen Rosenblum interpreted the new law to apply only to students who had not previously been granted a non-medical exemption. Rosenblum’s office did not respond to comments by press time.

Her interpretation of the 2013 law does catch kindergarteners and any kids moving into Oregon from out-of-state, but allows every other kid to get by with the previous blanket opt-out, which had been granted automatically, no questions asked.

Senate Bill 442, sponsored by Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, would require public school children whose parents want to opt-out of vaccinations to show informed consent every time they are otherwise required to report new vaccinations or booster shots, which should net adolescents entering 7th and 8th grades.

At the start of 7th grade, public school children need an additional tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis shot, in addition to proof of their menu of early childhood shots like polio, chicken pox and measles, mumps and rubella.

Oregon’s kindergarten vaccination rate is 94 percent -- which is lower than the “herd immunity” level for some highly contagious diseases like measles and whooping cough, also known as pertussis. In some Oregon counties, the rate is as low as 88 percent.

Because of a persistent anti-vaccination subculture, spurred by spurious if debunked junk science, the West Coast is particularly vulnerable to an outbreak of contagious disease that could spread rapidly through the populous, endangering the lives of babies and others with weak immune systems.

Measles was declared extinct in the United States in 2000, but the disease has come back with a furor, and just one outbreak at Disneyland in Southern California this winter has sickened six dozen people and counting, spreading north up the Coast to Washington.

Steiner Hayward told The Lund Report that she viewed SB 442 as a half-step and did not think it would attract much controversy -- unlike the earlier SB 132. The new bill also has the backing of Senate Health Committee Chairwoman Laurie Monnes Anderson, D-Gresham, and Senate Majority Leader Diane Rosenbaum, D-Portland.

Senate Republicans filibustered SB 132 for weeks in a tough road to passage in 2013, at the behest of Sen. Tim Knopp of Bend. Knopp argued that requiring vaccinations infringed upon the religious liberties of parents, particularly Christian Scientists, who oppose all interventions of Western medicine.

However, the U.S. Supreme Court has ruled that individuals do not have the right to endanger their children or others by refusing vaccinations under the First Amendment, and under Oregon law, Christian Scientists can still decline to immunize their children with a doctor’s note or after watching the state video.

The debate never gained much traction in the House, where senior Rep. Bob Jenson, R-Pendleton, recounted to his fellow legislators how fearful he was for his children each summer in the ‘50s and ‘60s, when polio would sweep into the community without the aid of a life-saving vaccine.

Jenson told House members that his daughter almost died of whooping cough and his father contracted polio as a boy, leaving him permanently disabled.

"I can’t leave here... and let some other family have to go through that kind of problem,” Jenson said, reported the Oregonian.


Chris Gray can be reached at [email protected]