PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) - The number of Oregon kindergartners going off to school without vaccinations has been rising steadily for more than a decade.
New state data show that 5.8 percent of the kindergartners in the 2011-12 school year had a religious exemption from vaccination for at least one disease, KATU-TV reported Tuesday (http://is.gd/KloDKW).
That's up 0.2 percentage point from the prior year, continuing a rise that dates to 2000-01, when parents of about 2 percent of the kindergartners claimed the religious exemptions.
Oregon makes it easy to opt out of vaccines: Parents sign their name on a form, and their children can go to school without one or more vaccines. For purposes of the law, the state says, a religion can be "any system of beliefs, practices or ethical values."
The increasing number of children without vaccinations is a concern to those watching an outbreak of whooping cough. Washington state has been hit hard, with more than 1,000 cases reported this year. Oregon has reported more than 150 cases.
The trend also disturbs children's doctors and public health officials, who say 6 percent of the kindergartners would be a threshold for serious risk.
"If it continues too far, we'll go back to the days where there were massive outbreaks," Dr. Jay Rosenbloom, a pediatrician, told KATU.
A state public health analysis said that of the kindergartners in the most recent data, parents rejected vaccines selectively, with the highest rates of exemptions for measles vaccinations and the lowest for whooping cough.
Rates of non-vaccination have been rising in all areas of the state, not just in places such as Ashland that have drawn attention for parents who refuse to get their children vaccinated, the analysis said.
Ashland is in Jackson County, where the rate of kindergarten exemptions was 6.3 percent. In Multnomah County, which includes much of Portland, the rate was 7.6 percent.
The highest rate of kindergartner exemptions, 12 percent, was in Curry County in the southwest corner of the state, the statistics showed. The lowest, 0.9 percent, was in Malheur County in the southeast corner.
Information from: KATU-TV, http://www.katu.com/