Oregon mulls banning personal belief exemption for vaccines

PORTLAND, Ore. -- The measles outbreak is of particular concern in Oregon, home to the highest rate of unvaccinated children in the country. Parents have been warned to get their children vaccinated by Wednesday or face expulsion from school.

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Jolynn Reynolds
CBS News

The state of Oregon is making Jolynn Reynolds watch an educational video before she can opt out of having her child vaccinated. Reynolds is claiming a philosophical exemption, allowing her kids to go to school without their required vaccinations.

"I'm their parent, I'm in charge of that decision and I sure would hate to inject them with something that has a potential high risk of hurting them," said Reynolds.

Watching the video, she told me, won't change her mind.

In 2000 about one percent of Oregon kindergartners were not fully vaccinated for philosophical or religious reasons. Last year it jumped to seven percent - the highest rate in the country. At some Oregon schools more than half the kids lack protection from diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella.

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CBS News

"Scares the living daylights out of me," said Elizabeth Steiner Hayward, a doctor who's also an Oregon state senator.

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Oregon State Senator Elizabeth Steiner Hayward
CBS News

Hayward is proposing legislation to eliminate all non-medical exemptions. She says she doesn't buy the argument that there's a personal belief.

"A belief has to be based on something," said Hayward. "You don't have to demonstrate that you really understand the issue, that you've really done valid research on this. You just have to say, 'nah, I don't think it's the right idea for my kid.'"

Wednesday is the deadline for Oregon's school age kids to get their required vaccinations or claim an exemption. Jolynn Reynolds is furious that she may soon be forced to get her kids their shots.

"You can try to teach my child, you can educate my child, but you can't force my child and you can't force me," Reynolds told me.

Oregon could become the first state to revoke these so-called personal belief exemptions in the wake of this year's measles outbreak. Lawmakers in California and Washington state are also considering similar changes to their laws.