(NaturalNews) Parents who want to enter their children in Oregon schools without vaccinating them will now need to sit through a lecture from a family doctor or watch a promotional video before they can be granted an exemption, according to a law taking effect on March 1.
Regardless of the severity or prevalence of the disease in question, or whether the parents choose to vaccinate on an alternative schedule, this will be a requirement for parents seeking any vaccine exemption.
The law is an effort to bring down the numbers of children who enter Oregon public schools without being "fully vaccinated," defined as following the complete Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations. According to CDC data, 6.4 percent of Oregon kindergartners (3,010 children) entered the 2012-2013 school year with a religious or philosophical vaccine exemption, in comparison with the national rate of 1.8 percent. This makes Oregon's vaccine exemption rate the highest in the nation.
And while the national rate has not changed in recent years, the Oregon Public Health Division reports that Oregon's vaccine exemption rate has climbed steadily from its 2001-2002 level of 2.4 percent.
Public officials say they do not understand why so many Oregon parents choose to opt out, nor why there is so much variation between separate regions of the state. For example, some counties have opt-out rates as high as 15 percent, while the exemption rate at some schools is as high as 70 percent.
No clear demographic factors seem to influence differential vaccination rates. For example, both Marion County (which contains the state capital) and Josephine County have low numbers of doctors, but Marion County has a 4 percent exemption rate and Josephine has a 13.5 percent rate. And while unemployment and higher education rates are low in Josephine County, a recent study in California found that vaccine exemptions were more common in areas with higher socioeconomic status and a more highly educated population.
Education or coercion?
Under the new law, which mimics laws recently implemented in California and Washington, parents who wish to receive a vaccine exemption will first need to meet with a family doctor and hear about the benefits of vaccines. Unlike in the other states, Oregon parents will have the option of watching a one-hour online video instead.
Although supposedly both the lecture and the video will inform parents about both risks and benefits of vaccination, they can be expected to more heavily emphasize benefits, since the goal of the law is to increase vaccination rates -- such as in Washington, where a similar requirement led to a 27 percent drop in opt-out rates.
Supporters of the law, such as physician and bill sponsor Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, D-Portland, have expressed optimism that, once parents hear their perspective, they will choose to vaccinate.
But critics claim that the law is designed to create a hurdle for parents who may already be making an informed decision.
Oregon resident Jennifer Margulis, mother of four and author of The Business of Baby, a book skeptical of many childhood medicine recommendations, said that most parents who get exemptions are already well informed about the risks and benefits of vaccines.
And while Margulis does not oppose all vaccination -- although she did opt-out of some for her own children and give some shots on an alternative schedule -- she believes the law has an ulterior motive.
"I think education and communication between health care officials and parents is always a good thing," she said. "But I am concerned that this law, instead of promoting good communication, is more about an underhanded way to coerce people into vaccinating."