LA GRANDE — The Center for Human Development sent out 229 letters to parents of students across Union County whose school records do not show the children have received all required vaccinations.
Oregon state law requires the immunization of schoolchildren. If a child has not been immunized or records have not been updated to show he or she has received required vaccines or are exempt, parents have until Feb. 19 to update the records or the child will not be allowed to attend school.
"There are no exceptions to students returning after the exclusion day without either the documentation of needed vaccination or the appropriate paperwork completed for claiming a medical or non-medical exemption," said Elizabeth Sieders, public health specialist at CHD.
According to the Oregon Health Authority, medical exemptions can be temporary or permanent and done when there is a severe risk of an adverse reaction to a vaccine. It is up to the child's doctor to determine if the risk is enough to allow an exemption.
A non-medical exemption can be given due to personal, religious or philosophical beliefs. Parents who would like to claim this must first provide a certification of vaccination education.
For either exemption, schools need the proper documentation before students can return to classes.
"Students may not be receiving the required immunizations for many reasons. Most of the time it is simply that the parents have fallen behind in getting their child in to get these done," Sieders said. "The intent of the school exclusion process is to have a way to enforce deadlines. If there were not deadlines, and consequences, many people would never make it a priority to keep themselves or (their) children up to date on vaccines, but rather vaccinate during an outbreak as a reactionary method."
Children who miss class due to the exclusion date will be marked as unexcused, according to the Oregon Department of Education. Each district will follow its own attendance policy in regard to responding to the absence.
"We prefer not to disrupt the education of a student and highly value students in schools attending on a regular and consistent basis," La Grande Superintendent George Mendoza said. "We prefer not to exclude anyone if at all possible (and offer) a great deal of communication, support and information gathering in advance of the cut-off date."
Sieders said it is important for students to remain up to date on their vaccinations. Not only does missing school have a negative effect of learning, staying properly immunized can help prevent the spread of disease and illness.
"As we know, vaccines prevent many diseases," Sieder said. "Diseases flourish and spread in places where many people gather closely for prolonged periods of time, like school and daycare. ... As the local health department, our role is to try to decrease the barriers to families staying vaccinated by providing free or low cost vaccine and increasing accessibility outside of primary care clinics."
In Union County, the schools with the highest number of incomplete records include Cove Charter School and La Grande Middle School, whose numbers were in the 40s. Central had the highest number of students with no records, with 6. Local preschools and daycares, and the Riverbend Academy students did not receive any letters. According to the Oregon Health Authority's data on vaccination rates, 89% of Union County is vaccinated. Union is among one of the lowest in vaccination rates, just ahead of Grant County at 88%.