As COVID-19 vaccines are distributed throughout Oregon, it reminds us to think deeply about immunizations and what we can do to protect our children and our community. Here at Our Children Oregon, we aim to elevate the importance of early childhood immunizations in laying the foundation for health and well-being. We advocate for early and routine immunizations to ensure our children are protected from preventable diseases so they can live safer and healthier lives.
When the pandemic began, a survey from the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) found that concerns “caused a “sharp reduction” in the routine immunization of children and adults over the last two months”. Nearly all (95%) clinics reported changing their immunization practices, and 65% reduced or limited their well-child visits. Prior to the pandemic, childhood immunization rates across the state had room to improve. Looking to these data, we are able to see where we are doing well and where our systems must improve around early and routine immunizations to better protect our children. By not vaccinating our children, we risk them catching preventable diseases and spreading them to the broader community. A recent reminder is that of the measles outbreak that happened in the northwest in 2019; measles is easily preventable with a vaccination however only if everyone does their part.
Childhood OHA 2019 immunization data:
- Approximately 2 in 7 (29%) of two-year olds were not fully vaccinated
- The immunization rate for two-year olds was 71%, failing to meet the Healthy People 2020 target of 80%
- Eight percent (8%) of Oregon kindergartners took non-medical exemptions from one or more vaccination (the highest in the country, tied with Idaho)
Ways to improve immunization rates:
- Inform families: We can improve immunization rates by educating families on when and where to get immunizations. Leading national health organizations including The American Academy of Family Physicians, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, and the American Academy of Pediatrics (whose statement is supported locally by the Oregon Pediatric Society) recommend routine immunizations to protect our children.
- Increase access: It can be more difficult for families that live in remote or rural areas to access their primary care provider (PCP) or other medical professional that can vaccinate their children. A report from the Oregon Office of Rural Health found that those who lived in rural areas had to drive nearly twice as long to get to their PCP (25 minutes) than the overall average (~13 minutes)
Did you know? Recent legislation passed that has allowed dentists in Oregon to administer vaccinations too.
- Monitor the data. Continue to track immunization data to understand the status of childhood protection against preventable disease across all populations and regions of the state.
- Revisit current policy: Current immunization policy allows non-medical (philosophical or religious) exemptions for vaccinations, resulting in Oregon having the highest rate of non-medically exempt kindergartners in the nation (tied with Idaho). Oregon’s current policy for non-medical exemptions requires parents either watch an education module and submit a certificate of completion, or go to a health care provider and have them sign a Vaccine Education Certificate; almost all exemptions are achieved by the do-it-yourself option.
To better protect our children against vaccine-preventable diseases, Our Children Oregon advocates to remove non-medical exemptions as part of the 2021 Children’s Agenda and encourage parents to consult with a health care provider in order to understand all the information relating to immunizations.