Oregon's Mandatory Vaccination Bill clears first political hurdle

House Bill 3063 would ban all non-medical vaccine exemptions. (MGN)

A bill that would end non-medical exemptions for vaccines cleared its first political hurdle Thursday when it passed the House Committee of Healthcare in Salem.

House Bill 3063 would put an end to Oregon's non-medical vaccination exemptions for attending public and private schools. According to Jackson County Health Officer Jim Shames, the vast majority of people support vaccines. Shames could not comment specifically on the Mandatory Vaccination Bill, but said it's an issue that has polarized Oregonians.

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"From a medical standpoint, vaccines are probably the most powerful and effective public health intervention of all time," Shames said. "I think some people are confused, some people are suspicious, and some people are downright hostile to the idea."

Shames said Jackson County had a 93 percent complete vaccination rate, but that there were "pockets" in the community where that number was much lower. Overall, he said that 93 percent is slowly trending down. "It does concern me," he said.

HB 3063 comes after the recent measles outbreak in northern Oregon and southern Washington that left dozens of people sickened. Current Oregon law requires parents to see a medical professional or watch a video about the health risks an exemption can pose before getting a non-medical exemption. This bill would put an end to that option all together.

Ashland resident Nick Shulters said this would make schools - and all public spaces - safer.

"If something comes in like measles, polio in extreme cases-- anything we can prevent-- it makes sense to me to prevent it," said Shulters. "I don't want to see people I care about get knocked out for something that is easily preventable."

Opposition to the bill comes from a number of places. Some critics are against the idea of vaccines altogether, expressing concern that the science claiming vaccines are safe is inaccurate. Others believe the bill to be a huge government over-reach that severely limits the choice parents have in raising their children.

"It's not reasonable for the state to revoke the right to informed choice," said Dr. Rachel Meredith, and Oregon Physician during a public hearing to the House Committee on Healthcare last month. "This is central to our practice as physicians-- that people have the right to informed choice."

Shames agreed that from a societal standpoint, the bill could have unintended consequences.

He said parents could just seek medical exemptions for their children from their doctors. The Mandatory Vaccination Bill does not specify what illnesses or conditions would be qualified for a medical exemption.

A list of the current allowed medical exemptions can be found on the Center for Disease Control website. Physicians can sign medical exemptions for children with valid contraindications to an immunization as determined by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices.

Shames also said some parents might opt to pull their children out of public or private school altogether, or could decide to leave the state.

"I think whatever legislation we propose, we need to think it through very carefully," he said.

The bill is set to move to the Joint Committee on Ways and Means for an analysis on its financial impact. If passed, it would then move for a House floor vote.

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