Almost one in 10 Clackamas County kindergartners (9.1 percent) have non-medical exemptions from at least one vaccine, according to a recent report by Clackamas County Public Health, and that number is climbing. It’s three points higher than the number of kids in all grades who have non-medical exemptions, 6.2 percent, or 3,820 Clackamas County students.
The county says that over 2,000 kids — about 3.4 percent of the county’s school-age population — are completely unvaccinated. Of that number, only 79 are unvaccinated because of documented medical reasons (.001 percent). Clackamas County ranks seventh among Oregon counties that have the highest percentage of kindergartners who have a non-medical exemption.
Clackamas County Health Officer Dr. Sarah Present said Thursday that vaccine-preventable diseases are on the rise in Oregon despite vaccines being of the safest and most effective public health interventions ever created. The new public health report says that the rise is outbreaks is linked to a growing trend of parents delaying their kids from receiving vaccinations — or exempting them entirely — as well as a lack of access to health care services.
“For over 50 years, immunizations have saved more than a billion lives and prevented countless illnesses and disabilities in the United States,” Dr. Present says. “Vaccine-preventable diseases, such as measles, mumps and whooping cough, are still a threat that continue to infect U.S. children, resulting in hospitalizations and deaths every year.”
Also cited as factors in the rise of vaccine-preventable diseases were the ease of obtaining a non-medical exemption, a lack of trust in vaccine safety, pharmaceutical companies and conventional health care systems, and misinformation about vaccines that has increased skepticism about vaccines and their health risks.
“Vaccines are not just about individual choices. They are about our connection and responsibility to others,” said Richard Swift, Director of Clackamas County’s Health, Housing & Human Services Department. “Declining vaccine coverage has introduced a number of harmful infectious diseases back into our communities and is threatening lives.”
The report also shared a real-life example of vaccines working in Clackamas County. Three years ago, someone who worked in food service in the county exposed thousands of people to hepatitis A, a highly contagious infection that affects the liver and can be deadly. No one contracted the virus in this case, the report says, because the majority of those exposed had been vaccinated against it.
So, what’s the outlook for Canby’s schools? With approximately 93 percent of its population fully vaccinated the Canby School District falls into a category considered “moderately vulnerable” by the Oregon Health Authority.
The recent measles outbreak in Washington state and Oregon has led to the decision by Clackamas County leaders to take preventative action against a resurgence of contagious and potentially life-threatening diseases happening here. Their strategy includes improving access to and education regarding vaccines, strengthening partnerships between Clackamas County Public Health and community organizations, and increasing parent-to-parent education.
For more information or to get your questions answered, visit the county’s website here.