Oregon lawmaker wants to end non-medical exemptions to school vaccine requirement

by Joe Douglass, KATU News

Oregon has the highest rate of children who are legally exempt from school vaccination requirements in the country. (KATU file image.)

From the beginning of the year until now, health authorities have confirmed 53 measles cases in Clark County and four separate cases linked to the outbreak in Multnomah County.

Oregon has the highest rate of children who are legally exempt from school vaccination requirements in the country. State Rep. Mitch Greenlick, D-Portland, told KATU that’s dangerous.

He’s working on a bill that would eliminate non-medical exemptions to all vaccine requirements. And he predicts it will be successful.

Greenlick said it’s about protecting people, including infants who usually don’t get the measles vaccine until they’re 1 year old.

“I have people come into my office and saying, ‘I have a 3-month-old baby. What am I going to do? I’m afraid to take the baby out because I’m exposed and they’re not protected,’ Greenlick explained.

Regarding both the MMR (Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) and the MMRV (Measles, Mumps, Rubella, and Varicella) vaccines the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says getting them “is much safer than getting measles.”

But the CDC says in Oregon 7.5 percent of kindergartners have a non-medical exemption from the school vaccine requirement. That’s the highest rate of its kind in the nation and about twice the rate in Washington (3.9 percent). The median percentage for non-medical exemptions nationwide is 2 percent.

“This is not a trivial matter,” said Greenlick.

He wants to do away with the personal, religious and philosophical exemptions allowed under Oregon law and leave only the medical exemption.

The Portland Democrat spent three decades as a vice president of research at Kaiser Permanente. He also chaired Oregon Health and Science University’s department of public health and preventive medicine for 10 years.

Theresa Wrangham, executive director of the National Vaccine Information Center, opposes Greenlick’s proposal.

“You’re talking about a minority of parents who exercise their human rights to make medical risk-taking decisions voluntarily. Vaccination is a risk-taking decision,” Wrangham told a KATU reporter. “It’s my contention that this is a human right because it carries the risk of injury and death. You have to allow people to make that choice.”

“You want to home school your kids and you want to keep them out of the reach of other kids? Go for it,” said Greenlick. “I’m not affecting their right with this bill. I’m affecting the right for them to endanger other kids in the schools if they’re not protected.”

In 2011, a committee formed by the Institute of Medicine said, “An analysis of more than 1,000 research articles concluded that few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines.”

And regarding reports of problems, a 2012 Institute of Medicine study said, “…More often (than) not, we did not have sufficient scientific information to conclude whether a particular vaccine caused a specific rare adverse event. “

Greenlick hopes to file his bill this week.