March 13, 2015 / 2:03 AM / 5 years ago

Lawmakers in Northwest eye new vaccine proposals after bill defeats

PORTLAND, Ore./SEATTLE (Reuters) - Lawmakers in U.S. Northwest states said on Thursday they would revive efforts to make it harder for parents to legally opt out of vaccinations for their children, after legislative proposals in the wake of a measles outbreak stalled this week.

All U.S. states require certain vaccines for students for diseases such as mumps, rubella, tetanus or polio, but school immunization laws grant exemptions to children for medical reasons, including an inhibited immune system.

Almost all states grant religious exemptions against immunizations, while 20 states allow philosophical exemptions, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

A proposal in Oregon that would have removed philosophical and religious exemptions from school vaccinations, but preserve medical exemptions, was withdrawn on Wednesday after a backlash from parents and groups against vaccinations. Only Mississippi and West Virginia have such laws in place.

“As with all matters of personal choice, we have to be certain that our choices don’t impinge on our neighbors’ health and well-being,” Oregon state Senator and physician Elizabeth Hayward, a Democrat, said in a statement through an aide. The state has some of the country’s lowest immunization rates

Hayward’s office said she was revising the legislation, which would require parents seeking an exemption on non-medical grounds to consult a physician, but was not sure when she would introduce it.

Oregon passed a 2013 law requiring parents to obtain a doctor’s signature or watch an educational video on vaccination risks and benefits.

In Washington state, a proposal to scrap philosophical objections faced similar opposition and failed to be put to a vote, Democratic state Representative June Robinson said.

Robinson said she hoped to introduce a bill in the next legislative session.

The proposals followed a measles outbreak in the United Sates that sickened more than 150 people. Lawmakers in at least 10 states are promoting legislation that would make exemptions harder to obtain.

Last month, California lawmakers introduced a bill to end the personal beliefs exemption for vaccinations in that state. The bill is set for a hearing in the state Senate on April 8. In Vermont, a bill would remove religious and philosophical exemptions to vaccinations.

Overall, 68 percent of U.S. adults say childhood vaccinations should be required, while 30 percent say parents should be able to decide, according to Pew Research.

Reporting by Eric M. Johnson in Seattle and Shelby Sebens in Portland, Oregon; Additional reporting by Sharon Bernstein in Sacramento, Ca.; Editing by Peter Cooney

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