- Associated Press - Tuesday, April 21, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - An Oregon Senate committee advanced a vaccine bill ahead of a key deadline Tuesday, passing a measure that seeks to increase the number of immunized children and requires schools to publish vaccination rates.

The measure, one of several drafted around the nation after a measles outbreak that started at Disneyland sickened more than 100 people, passed the Senate Education Committee on a 4-3 party-line vote with Democrats in favor.

Supporters say the measure is necessary for public health in a state that has the nation’s highest rate of nonmedical vaccination exemptions for kindergartners. Opponents, however, say the plan steps on the rights of parents who consider vaccines dangerous.

The measure passed on the final day for bills to get out of their first committee. It now must pass a budget committee before it gets to the Senate floor.

The bill would require schools to publish vaccination exemption rates by disease and get parents granted exemptions in the past to either consult their doctor or watch an educational video about the decision against vaccinating.

The sponsor, Democratic Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, said it would help parents with children who have health problems and can’t get vaccinated determine if their schools are safe.

“Parents are less likely to be concerned, for example, about a child who hasn’t been immunized against Hepatitis A, maybe, or Hepatitis B” than “they would be against a child who hasn’t been immunized against measles or chickenpox,” she said during a committee hearing last week.

Opponents argue that posting immunization rates could publicly shame or bully parents who decide against getting some or all of the recommended shots.

They also criticized the measure for making it harder for parents to opt out of immunization by requiring them to meet with a doctor or watch a video on the risks and benefits of vaccines in order to send children to school.

“Either alternative imposes a burden upon and clearly interferes with the religious rights of Oregonians,” said Robert Snee, Director of Oregonians for Medical Freedom, in submitted testimony.

Steiner Hayward, a Beaverton physician, also has proposed a bill removing all nonmedical exemptions for vaccines.

She dropped that plan amid passionate opposition from parents who said it was an extreme example of government overreach - but said the debate around the bill was too focused on the merits and credibility of vaccine science, which has long been supported by the medical community.

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