Vaccine mandate sponsor drops bill

Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward casts aside prohibition of nonmedical exemption bill; pursues different policy.

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Responding to public pressure, Oregon Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward (D-Beaverton) withdrew a bill that would prohibit nonmedical exemptions to vaccines.

But, she has not abandoned the issue entirely, the Statesman Journal reports.

The new proposal, which has not yet been formally introduced, would allow parents to prove their child’s immunity from a vaccine-preventable disease and to use a vaccine catch-up schedule for those not in compliance with the state-mandated plan. For example, the parent of a child who has natural immunity from the chicken pox could prove that through a blood test and not have to claim an exemption from the varicella vaccine.

Parents who do want to claim a nonmedical exemption would need to be educated on the risks of vaccine avoidance from their child’s primary care provider. The online video modules, produced by the Oregon Health Authority, would no longer be an option to satisfy the education requirement. The policy would also require schools to make available their vaccine-exemption rates on their websites and report cards to prompt local public health conversations about vaccinations.

Steiner Hayward’s original proposal gained national attention and was seen unfavorably by vocal parents who oppose mandated vaccination schedules.

The Bend Bulletin reported on some of the heated rhetoric used by mandated vaccination foes in a story published Thursday.

Opposition to the ban was on display at a public hearing before the Senate Committee on Health Care last month, when a Glide mother told committee members her daughter had a violent reaction to a vaccine and was later diagnosed with autism. “I will denounce my citizenship and leave the state, I would leave the country, but they are not vaccinating my child,” she said.

Short of renouncing their citizenship, the ban would have forced Oregon parents to decide between full immunization or pulling their kids out of school. Vaccination requirements apply to public and private schools, preschools, child care facilities and Head Start programs in Oregon. Currently parents can get nonmedical exemptions citing religious or philosophical reasons; since 2014, they have also had to fulfill an education requirement, either with a health care provider or online, about the benefits and risks of vaccines. The relative ease of getting an exemption has led to Oregon racking up the highest nonmedical exemption rate in the country. According to the Oregon Health Authority, last year 7 percent of Oregon kindergartners had nonmedical exemptions. In Deschutes County, the rate was 10 percent.

Washington had a similar bill that was also shut down in a response to protests from the public, the Associated Press reports.

In Washington state, a similar effort to remove personal or philosophical opposition to vaccines as an authorized exemption from childhood school immunizations died in the state House after failing to come up for a vote before a key deadline. Religious and medical exemptions would have remained under that bill. Washington state Rep. June Robinson, who had sponsored the bill, said she didn’t have the votes she needed. The Democrat from Everett said the pushback from parents and others opposed to the change had an effect on some lawmakers.

“There was a very loud outcry, much of which was filled with false information,” she said.