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Vaccination bill continues to draw protest

Brown says she'll sign a bill to limit exemptions, though neither house has put it to a vote.

Gov. Brown says she'll sign a bill limiting exemptions to mandatory vaccinations if one is passed.A bill to limit vaccine exemptions passed out of its subcommittee this week, as expected, drawing cheers from supporters and consternation from opponents.

Public health officials, mainstream physicians and other medical experts have long championed vaccinations as an effective way to prevent certain viral and bacterial infections from spreading. Widespread vaccinations were critical in eradicating smallpox, and they have been credited for drastically reducing the rate of polio and other serious diseases.

However, vaccine skeptics reject the medical consensus that vaccinations are safe. State legislators have heard from Oregonians who believe vaccines are responsible for health conditions they have contracted, worry about the preservatives and other chemicals found in vaccines, and argue that there isn't enough conclusive research to support the idea that everyone can and should be vaccinated as a child. Others object on religious grounds.

Gov. Kate Brown is unswayed.

"I will be signing that bill," Brown said Thursday.

The Brown administration and public officials in Marion, Multnomah, Clackamas and Columbia counties found themselves scrambling earlier this year after a measles outbreak in neighboring Clark County, Wash., was reported in January. Fourteen measles cases have since been reported in Oregon, although the Oregon Health Authority believes most of them are unrelated to the Washington outbreak.

Measles is vaccine-preventable, and officially, North and South America are both measles-free zones, the Pan American Health Organization declared in 2016.

Like every other state, Oregon officially requires students to be vaccinated against measles as a condition of attending school. However, the state allows parents to opt out of vaccination requirements for religious or philosophical reasons.

House Bill 3063 would limit those exemptions to be for medical reasons only. Antivaxxers protest this as a case of the government trying to dictate personal health choices, while supporters argue that vaccine exemptions reduce "herd immunity," leading to the spread of diseases like measles.

Because no vaccination has a 100 percent success rate, some people who have been inoculated may still be susceptible to measles and other contagious illnesses. People who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons, including young infants, are also vulnerable.

"As governor, I work really hard to meet the needs of the majority of Oregonians and do what's right for all Oregonians," Brown said. "I am not going to make everyone happy, and I am not going to have everybody like me, but my role and goal as governor is to lead this state in a way that's reflective of Oregonian values and Oregonians and keep us moving forward in a way that ensures our people are safe."

The Washington State Legislature passed its own bill to limit vaccine exemptions earlier this week. Washington Gov. Jay Inslee is expected to sign the bill into law.

In Oregon, HB 3063 has yet to come before the full House or Senate for a vote. It is expected to have bipartisan support — as well as bipartisan opposition.