Ashland's low vaccination rate may be focus of study

Southern Oregon University and Jackson County health officials hope to join forces on a $10,000 study designed to find out why Ashland parents are so reluctant to vaccinate their children.

"It's a big concern," said SOU professor Jon Lange, who was part of an effort to provide more education to parents on children's vaccinations during the 2010-11 school year.

In 2010, 25 percent of Ashland students didn't get all their vaccines, more than double the percentage in 2001. Of the 3,117 students enrolled in public and private schools, 777 claimed the religious exemption — the highest rate in the state.

Jackson County commissioners will decide whether to approve the study at 9:30 a.m. today in their offices at 10 S. Oakdale Ave., Medford. Funds will come from the Health and Human Services budget.

The SOU Research Center will use the money to conduct interviews with parents, compile the data and file the finished study by June 30, 2013.

Dr. Jim Shames, Jackson County Health and Human Services medical director, created the Ashland Immunization Outreach Team earlier this year to hold forums at Ashland schools and answer questions on immunization. He was unavailable for comment Tuesday.

SOU's final report will include an evaluation on the outreach team's effectiveness in helping to boost vaccination rates.

Concerns over vaccinations for conditions such as polio, mumps, measles and other contagious diseases include that the vaccinations are given too early, that they damage the body's natural immune system and that they cause additional problems such as autism.

Vaccination proponents disagree, saying immunizations not only are safe but help protect the community from outbreaks. Ashland is vulnerable because of the large number of people who aren't vaccinated and because of the high rate of tourism, they say.

Though the U.S. has enjoyed an era that has been relatively disease-free thanks to vaccinations, other countries still suffer outbreaks and can pass disease onto children who travel, health officials say.

Unless they have been granted a religious exemption, schoolchildren must be immunized with all required vaccines by Feb. 15, 2012, or they will be excluded from school.

Reach reporter Ryan Pfeil at 541-776-4468 or by email at

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