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Step Up and Get Kids that Shot – or Not?

June 1, 2010

SALEM, Ore. - Oregon's immunization rate for two-year-olds is just over 68 percent, a number that mirrors the national average, but many health care providers believe it should be higher. There's a whole list of vaccinations given to babies and toddlers to boost their immunity to 13 infectious diseases that can be deadly. But there also is a small percentage of parents who don't get their children immunized, for various reasons.

A U.S. Court of Federal Claims has reviewed the research and recently announced it found no evidence linking vaccines to autism, which should ease some concerns. However, Lorraine Duncan, immunization program manager for the Oregon Health Department, says there's a lot of information to consider in making the decision to vaccinate.

"We have to acknowledge that there's always benefits and risks with immunization. And it's important that we acknowledge and listen to what parents have to say and answer all their questions. And then, if we're able to do that, we hope that we can convince them to vaccinate. But they are the ones that are responsible for their children, and we need to honor that."

One of the diseases Oregon is watching carefully this year is pertussis or whooping cough. The number of cases in the state more than doubled from 2006 to 2009. Dr. Margaret Rowland, chief medical officer for CareOregon, says the only way to keep the number from climbing is to increase immunizations.

"We still see periodic cases of measles and chicken pox. All of these illnesses have not gone away; they've not been eradicated. We just don't have the type of outbreaks that we did previously, simply because we're able to immunize people appropriately."

Only about five percent of Oregon parents choose what is known as a "religious exemption" if they don't intend to vaccinate children before sending them to public school. For the rest, health officials say there are low and no-cost ways to get kids vaccinated, and parents should discuss the recommended timeline for those shots, as well as any concerns, with their doctors.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - OR