Vaccine exemption rates sharply rise in Oregon kindergartens

ASHLAND, Ore.– A recent analysis released by the Oregon Health Authority study has found that nonmedical exemption rates for kindergartners across the state has sharply increased.

In 2014, that wasn’t the case. After the state passed a law that year requiring parents to take a series of steps including learning about vaccines before signing off on a nonmedical exemption, within a year the exemption rates dropped from 7 percent to 5.8 percent.

Dr. Jim Shames, a medical director for the county, says before that law people could just sign a form to get an exemption. From the states point of you, things seemed to be working.

However, since 2015, every year has seen an increase in people avoiding vaccines from 6.2 percent in 2016, 6.5 percent in 2017 and 7.5 percent in 2018. This has prompted concern from medical professionals.

“When we’re immunizing – when we’re choosing to immunize – we’re immunizing to protect our own children and ourselves,” said Shames. “We’re also immunizing to protect the vulnerable in our population.”

Shames believes there may be a sense of complacency involved with the rise of exemption rates. Once, when diseases such as measles and mumps were considered a major threat have now been controlled by vaccines. People don’t realize the great things immunizations have done for the world and due to time passing, don’t see it’s benefits, according to Shames.

“If the measles virus ends up in a community and the vast majority children and individuals are protected against measles – it doesn’t spread,” he said. “But if you have a community or school system for example, where 25, 30, 40 percent of the children are not immunized against measles, it could spread very quickly.”

That could likely happen in Jackson and Josephine County where vaccination rates are some of the lowest in the state. According to data from OHA, K-12 schools in both counties have 89 percent of it’s student body vaccinated with all required immunizations. Comparatively, Klamath and Douglas have 95 and 94 percent, respectively.

But Josephine County has one of the highest exemption rates at around 10 percent and in Ashland alone, several schools have exemption rates for any vaccine well above 50 percent. Every school in the city is also considered vulnerable.

“Most of the schools are below 90 percent. Some are below 50 percent,” said Shames. “In that case you could have tremendous spread where a significant number if not a majority of the kids could in fact come down with a disease like measles.”

The Oregon Health Authority says that while exemption rates have risen, most Oregonians still choose to vaccinate their children.

NBC5 News reached out to the Ashland School District for comment. No one was available at this time.

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