No Vaccine? No School for Kids in Oregon

The flu vaccine is typically 50 percent to 60 percent effective, according to the CDC. (Photo: CNK02/Shutterstock)

There are no official numbers in yet, but if this year is anything like last year, roughly 4,000 kids may not be able to attend school in Oregon, not because they're sick, but because their immunization paperwork isn't up-to-date. Feb. 21 was Exclusion Day in Oregon, and that means that any child who isn't immunized or whose immunization exemption papers haven't been turned in will be sent home from school until their papers are complete.

There are few issues that pit parents against one another as intensely as vaccination. For every parent who vehemently defends the science behind vaccination and the need for children to be vaccinated for the community as a whole to prevent disease, there's another parent who just as strongly argues in favor of their right to question the status quo and protect their children from the vaccines they believe may be just as harmful.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the vast majority of American teens between the ages of 13 and 17 have had the immunizations required by federal law. About 90 percent have been vaccinated for measles, mumps, and rubella (or MMR) while 83 percent are updated on their Tdap vaccine (an immunization that requires a booster in seventh grade.) Still, misinformation about vaccines and their links to various health conditions continues to convince some parents that their children might be safer without the shots.

Within a community, there are are some children who are medically-exempt from required vaccinations typically because their immune systems are not working effectively enough to ensure that the immunization would be effective. Children undergoing chemotherapy, for instance, would be medically-exempt from vaccination. In most states, it's also possible for parents to claim non-medical exemptions that would allow them to refrain from vaccination.

According to Oregon state law, parents who claim non-medical exemption must either complete an online course about vaccines and submit a certificate of completion or receive a Vaccine Education Certificate from their child's health care provider that affirms they have received adequate information about vaccines.

Oregon requires that all parents submit either proof of vaccination or complete the paperwork to claim a non-medical exemption by a specified date, referred to by the very "Hunger-Games" sounding name, Exclusion Day. After this date, children whose paperwork isn't complete are sent home and may not return until the task is done.

This year, that date was Feb. 21. The exact number of children sent home from school on Exclusion Day and beyond won't be known until May, after all of the schools and health departments submit their reports.