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Northwest Lawmakers Aim For Higher Immunization Rates



Some Northwest lawmakers want to make it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children.

The proposals come as a measles outbreak has spread to 14 states including Oregon and Washington.

Lawmakers in Olympia want to eliminate that state's exemption for parents opposed on philosophical grounds. People could still refuse to vaccinate for religious reasons.

In Salem, Democratic state senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward wants to eliminate all non-medical immunization exemptions.

"There's no room for that,” she said. “This is a huge public health issue."

Steiner Hayward is also a family physician and says people just aren't aware of how devastating once-common diseases were. Public health officials say Oregon has among the highest rates of non-medical vaccine exemptions for schoolchildren.

Opponents of the proposal say parents should have the right to opt out of vaccinating their kids for any reason.

Steiner Hayward's bill will be the subject of a public hearing in Salem on Feb. 18. The Washington bill has not been scheduling for a hearing yet. Some legislators in California also want to eliminate religious and personal vaccine exemptions.

Chris Lehman graduated from Temple University with a journalism degree in 1997. He landed his first job less than a month later, producing arts stories for Red River Public Radio in Shreveport, Louisiana. Three years later he headed north to DeKalb, Illinois, where he worked as a reporter and announcer for NPR–affiliate WNIJ–FM. In 2006 he headed west to become the Salem Correspondent for the Northwest News Network.