Aug 30, 2023 - Education

Oregon's school vaccine exemption rate remains high

Data: CDC; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios
Data: CDC; Chart: Kavya Beheraj/Axios

Oregon has one of the highest vaccine exemption rates for kindergartners in the country.

  • 7% of kindergartners across the state were granted exemptions for required vaccines as of the 2022 school year, below only Idaho (9.8%) and Utah (7.4%).

Why it matters: Vaccinations reduce the spread of illnesses — some potentially fatal — that once plagued the country, such as polio.

  • While children are generally required to get a number of vaccinations before attending public school, exemptions can be given for medical and non-medical reasons (such as religious or moral objections), depending on local rules.
  • Studies have found an increased risk of infection from vaccine-preventable diseases among exempt children.

Driving the news: Although COVID-19 vaccination is not required for young children attending public school anywhere in the U.S., concerns over that shot may be fueling broader vaccine skepticism — a trend that existed before the pandemic.

Zoom in: Oregon is one of 15 states that allow exemptions for school children whose parents philosophically object to immunizations.

  • Parents who seek a non-medical exemption must either complete an online vaccine education class or have a medical professional sign a vaccine education certificate.

Flashback: In 2019, when Oregon's vaccine exemption rate reached an all-time high of 7.7%, several measles outbreaks hit the Portland area. The majority of cases were children under 10 who were unvaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella.

  • Following the measles outbreak, the state's vaccination exemption rate saw a gradual decline as many parents rushed to immunize their children from the disease.
  • Oregon saw an all-time low of 5.4% in 2021, when children returned to school in person following months of remote learning. Since then, however, exemption rates are ticking back up.

Separately, in previous years, some Portland-area private schools have had lower vaccination rates than many developing countries.

Zoom out: The nationwide median kindergarten vaccine exemption rate was rising even before the COVID-19 pandemic, increasing from 1.4% in 2012 to 2.6% in 2019.

  • It has stayed at 2.5% or higher since 2020, coming in at 2.7% in 2022, the latest year for which data is available.

Between the lines: Even as the kindergarten vaccine exemption rate ticks up, Americans overwhelmingly support childhood vaccinations, per a recent Pew Research Center survey.

  • When it comes to the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot, 88% of Americans said the benefits outweigh the risks, compared to 10% who feel the opposite.

Yes, but: Just 70% of Americans now say healthy kids should be vaccinated as a requirement to attend public school, Pew found — down from 82% in the pre-pandemic era.


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