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Bill to Require More Schoolchildren to Be Vaccinated for Childhood Diseases Called Off Mid-Pandemic

Senate Bill 254 won’t have the backing of advocates this year.

Two years ago, Democrat lawmakers killed a bill to end Oregon's philosophical exemption to school vaccination requirements, as part of a compromise to end a Republican walkout.

(Spoiler: That was just the beginning of Republicans using walkouts as a tactic to halt the Oregon Legislature.)

Related: Senate Republicans Headed Back to Work. Sources Say Democrats Traded Away Vaccines and Gun Safety Bill.

This year, a similar bill, Senate Bill 254, is dying before debate gets going.

"Oregon is at a critical moment with the implementation of vaccinations for COVID-19, and we have determined this does not make it possible to have the engaged, thoughtful conversation we need about childhood vaccination requirements in our schools," the Healthy Kids, Safe Schools coalition wrote to its partners in an email obtained by WW. "We remain committed to bringing back this legislation in a future session."

Though the COVID-19 vaccine is not required to attend school (in fact, it's not yet available to children), advocates for vaccines are facing the prospect of explaining the difference between long-standing, proven vaccines to end childhood diseases and the COVID-19 vaccine, which was approved on an emergency basis and has been met with skepticism from several directions.

That political minefield, along with the focus of public health officials on addressing the pandemic, appears to have been too complicated for advocates to traverse this year.

Currently, Oregon requires all children to be vaccinated before attending school, but allows for a wide-ranging, easily obtained philosophical exemption. (Oregon, along with Idaho, has the nation's highest rate of philosophical exemptions to the school requirement to have children vaccinated.)

Senate Bill 254 had already attracted attention from opponents of previous efforts to end Oregon's philosophical exemption.

"Our state is a progressive state that has fought for inclusivity and acceptance, not exclusion for differences or denial of access to inherent services funded by taxpayers,"  said Nicole DeGraff, executive director of Oregonians for Medical Freedom, which has opposed efforts to make it more difficult for parents to opt their children out of vaccines, in a Feb. 11 statement.