Oregon could wait for an epidemic. The state could retain its casual approach to childhood vaccinations and keep its ranking as the nation's worst for protecting children against terrible and preventable diseases.
Or, Oregon could follow Washington's lead and take one simple step to improve its childhood vaccination rates -- and do so without infringing on anyone's religious liberty.
The choice is clear. Oregon should pass a Senate bill under consideration that would require parents who withhold mandatory vaccines from their children to get a doctor's signature showing that they have been informed of the risks and benefits. As Washington has proven, this requirement is surprisingly effective at boosting a state's childhood vaccination rate virtually overnight.
Today in Oregon, children entering kindergarten need to show proof of immunization against numerous serious diseases, including polio, whooping cough and measles. Vaccines help protect the individual child, build "herd immunity" for the community and reduce the risk for those who are too young or sick to be safely vaccinated.
Oregon does offer two exceptions to its vaccination rule: Parents can get a medical exemption by bringing a letter from a doctor explaining the child's medical condition, or they can get a religious exemption by merely checking a box. Since Oregon defines religion as any belief system, parents use this option quite liberally. About 5.8 percent of Oregon kindergartners skip vaccines for nonmedical reasons, which is the nation's highest rate.