BEND, OR -- With the rise in measles cases nationwide, the discussion over whether to vaccinate children is heating back up. In 2014, Deschutes County had the fourth highest rate in the state for the number of kindergarten students receiving non-medical exemptions for required shots. Jill Johnson, Deschutes County Immunization Program Coordinator, tells KBND the exemption rate is concerning. "We haven’t had a measles case here in Deschutes County, but that’s not to say we couldn’t. With all the travel folks are doing and with the prevalence internationally, there’s certainly potential for a measles case to come here. There’s only been one case of measles recently in Lane County, in Oregon, but no other cases." In 2001, less than 0.5% of Deschutes County kindergarteners received a non-medical exemption; last year, that rate climbed to 10.1%. In Oregon, the statewide average has grown from 1.9% in 2001 to 7% in 2014.
Johnson says the danger of contracting diseases previously thought under control in the U.S. is real, especially for those who are not able to be immunized. "Very young babies who get measles are likely to be seriously ill. Also, people that have diseases with weakened immune systems, such as cancer or transplant recipients. Those kids that aren’t vaccinated in school could be the source of them getting sick." She says an other preventable disease is making a comeback in the county: Pertussis - also known as, Whooping Cough. In 2014, there were 60 cases of Pertussis reported in Deschutes County. That's more than three times the number reported during the past 5 years, combined. Pertussis can be prevented with the dTap and Tdap vaccines.
Children without updatd vaccination records, or appropriate exemption documentation, will not be allowed in school or daycare on "Exclusion Day," February 18th. Johnson hopes the number of families seeking non-medical exemptions will decrease this year, with the implemenation of a new law, "Prior to March 1st last year, families were able to claim a religious exemption, which could be for religious or philosophical [reasons] or just didn't want to get their child vaccinated. So, they could claim a religious exemption and just sign off. But now, the requirement is that a parent receives education either through an online module or getting education about the risks and benefits of vaccines through their healthcare provider."