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Court: State can vaccinate children in its care

Apr 25, 2014


By NIGEL DUARA
Of the Associated Press

PORTLAND — Children in the custody of the state can be immunized over the objections of their biological parents, the Oregon Supreme Court ruled Thursday in a case that involves the eight children of a couple with religious objections to vaccinations.

The court found that the children are the custody of the state, which entitles the state to administer medical treatment.

“Immunization is less invasive and more routine than surgery, which (the Department of Human Services) specifically may authorize as the wards’ legal guardian,” Justice Rives Kistler wrote in the opinion.

The eight children, between the ages of 1 and 10, were found in a Marion County home after a neighbor complained. A caseworker for the state agency found the children dirty, garbage strewn on the floor and the children's educational needs “barely addressed” by their mother's homeschool curriculum.

In January 2012, the children were placed in foster care, and the parents agreed that they had failed to provide for the children's educational and hygienic needs. But they disagreed that the children had been medically neglected.

When the department sought to immunize the children, their mother objected, saying vaccinations went against her beliefs.

The parents, identified by their initials in the ruling, argued that the department lacked the authority to administer the vaccines, and that doing so was a violation of due process. The Supreme Court disagreed.

Oregon leads the nation in the rate of kindergarteners whose parents seek exemptions from vaccinations because of nonmedical reasons. According to U.S. Centers for Disease Control data from the 2012-2013 school year, 6.4 percent of Oregon kindergarteners received a nonmedical exemption.

The next closest state was Vermont, where 5.7 percent of kindergarteners received nonmedical exemptions.

The Oregon Legislature tried to strengthen the rate of vaccinations last year with a bill that compelled parents seeking exemptions to consult with a doctor or view an educational video before exempting children.

Not everyone can be immunized, including infants, cancer patients receiving chemotherapy or people allergic to a vaccine.

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Reach reporter Nigel Duara on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/nigelduara

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