What measles epidemic? Legislators move to increase vaccine exemptions.

What measles epidemic? Legislators move to increase vaccine exemptions.

You can't turn on the news or pick up a newspaper or go online without hearing about the measles epidemic. Or learning how liberal "personal belief" exemptions are helping spread the disease.  

So you'd think the possibility of bad PR alone would deter a legislator from introducing a bill to create a personal belief or religious exemption to vaccination in states where none exists. Unfortunately, you would be wrong. 

Mississippi and West Virginia are the only two states in the nation that do not allow religious or personal belief exemptions for children attending school. (They do allow medical exemptions.) In media coverage of the epidemic, Mississippi has been widely admired for its exemplary vaccination rate, the highest in the nation. And this in a state that usually tops the charts for poor health stats.

So what did Mississippi Rep. Mark Formby and Sen. Chris McDaniel go and do?  They introduced bills in the Mississippi House and Senate to create a personal belief exemption. All the parent would have to do is give a letter to school authorities stating which vaccinations haven't been given because they are "contrary to his or her beliefs." The "his" and "her" refer to the parents, not the child. Children don't get a say in whether they want to be protected from diseases or risk permanent injury and possibly death because of parental "beliefs," no matter how ill-informed the parent is. 

 If Sen. McDaniel's name sounds familiar, it may be because he was a much-feared tea-party challenger to Republican U.S. Sen. Thad Cochran in the 2014 elections. So feared that Sen. Mitch McConnell personally raised tens of thousands of dollars to help Sen. Cochran get re-elected. Sen. McDaniel lost, left behind in Mississippi to further impoverish its citizens' health. Here's what he said to the Jackson (MS.) Free Press after the measles epidemic was already underway:

He [Sen. McDaniel] also said that states with similar exemptions haven't seen negative impacts from parents choosing not to vaccinate.

Oh, yes they have. Which is why the legislatures California, Oregon and Washington, where personal belief exemptions have created pockets of unvaccinated children who now have -- guess what? -- measles, have either already tightened up, or are attempting to strengthen, their child immunization laws. 

Fortunately, the bills died in committee and Mississippi is safe for another year. 

West Virginia legislators have displayed the same inexplicable interest in undermining public health. Rep. Daryl Cowles introduced a House bill creating a religious exemption, as did Sen. Ryan Ferns in the Senate. Of course, a religious exemption is not as broad as a personal belief exemption. As a practical matter, however, no one ever looks behind the claim of a religious exemption to see if it is sincere. It is constitutionally suspect to make this sort of inquiry and it would take a tremendous amount of time and taxpayer money to check out each religious exemption claim.  Thus, religious exemptions can become de facto personal belief exemptions for parents willing to fudge on their exemption applications. 

The House bill remains pending, but there was a substantial alteration in the Senate bill in the Health and Human Resources Committee.  For some reason, prior to the amendment, three Senate co-sponsors bailed. Whether that was due to a change of view engendered by the measles outbreak, I don't know. In any event, the Senate bill, as amended by the committee, dispenses with the religious exemption and actually appears to increase access to vaccinations through programs ensuring an adequate supply of vaccines is on hand and free immunizations.  

A bill is also pending in the New York Assembly which would allow parents to get out of vaccination requirements for school attendance by 

indicating his or her personal objection to immunizations, medical testing and treatments . . .

Again, the "his" or "her" refers to the parents, not the children. Assemblyman Thomas J. Abinanti is behind this effort. And who does Mr. Abinanti represent? The good folks of Westchester County, second only to New York County (which includes Manhatten) in per capita income.  Once again, it is the privileged who want to opt out of protecting the community from infectious disease. 

Last week, the bill's Senate sponsor, Martin Dilan, had the good sense to retract his endorsement, leaving Mr. Abinanti looking for another legislative partner. Let's hope he doesn't find one.

Mr. Abinanti's animosity towards the rational application of science to immunization policy is on display in other bills he is sponsoring.  One bill prohibits employers from requiring that employees be vaccinated, the only exception being long-term care facilities. He's also introduced a bill requiring vaccines containing GMOs to carry that information on the label, even though, if passed, it would almost certainly be preempted by the FDA's exclusive authority to regulate vaccine labelling. Another bill would require health care providers to give patients information on GMOs in vaccines and to offer a non-GMO vaccine option.  As you may have guessed, Mr. Abinanti no fan of GMOs, having been instrumental in passing a GMO food labelling bill in New York, in spite of the fact that there is not sufficient evidence of harm from consuming GMO-containing food. Another of his bills bans growing GMO foods in New York.

Apparently, Mr. Abinanti's low regard for the health and well-being of others extends beyond human beings. He is also sponsoring a bill directing state wildlife authorities to remove the peregrine falcon from the endangered list and formulate rules for their use in falconry.

Anti-vaccination, anti-GMO, pro-falconry.  The concerns of the cosseted, all aptly represented in Albany by Mr. Abinanti.   

Points of Interest 02/14/2015
Acupuncture works. If you expect it to.

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