- Associated Press - Friday, May 1, 2015

SALEM, Ore. (AP) - Oregon’s vaccine-exemption rate has dropped, state health officials said.

Over 600 fewer kindergarten students filed for nonmedical exemptions for this school year, the Oregon Health Authority said Friday.

The drop is likely linked to a new law requiring parents seeking an exemption to talk to a doctor or watch an online video about the benefits of vaccines, officials said. The law went into effect last March.

Data show 5.8 percent of all kindergarteners - 2,693 students - claimed religious, philosophical or other nonmedical exemption to one or more required vaccines in March 2015. That’s down from 7 percent, or 3,331 students, who opted out in March 2014.

Oregon last year had the nation’s highest exemption rate. It is unclear whether the state still has the highest rate because updated national data have not yet been released. That ranking will be released at the end of this summer by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Oregon requires all children in public and private schools, preschools, Head Start and certified child-care facilities to have up-to-date immunizations, or have an exemption.

State health officials said they worry some schools won’t be able to achieve “herd immunity,” which means enough children are vaccinated to prevent a disease from spreading.

Stacy de Assis Matthews of the Oregon Immunization Program said both California and Washington, which also instituted vaccine-education laws in recent years, also saw drops in their exemption rates.

The issue of exemptions flared up earlier this year, following a measles outbreak that began at Disneyland in California and spread to other states. But legislation in Oregon aiming to eliminate personal, religious and philosophical exemptions was abandoned because of formidable opposition from parents, who argued it took away their medical freedom and right to informed consent.

In Washington state, a similar effort to remove personal or philosophical opposition to vaccines also failed. But in California, a bill that would eliminate the exemptions is advancing through the Legislature, despite opposition from hundreds of parents.

Mississippi and West Virginia are the only other states that have comparable laws in place.

Earlier this month, Oregon lawmakers introduced a second bill requiring all schools to make public the rate of students opting out of one or more immunizations. Opponents of the measure argue the bill would publicly shame parents who decided to opt out of some vaccines.

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