Bills tightening immunization requirements move forward in several states

Bills tightening immunization requirements move forward in several states

The California Senate voted by a wide margin to end the state's personal belief and religious exemptions to childhood immunizations on Thursday. The measure now moves to the Assembly and a new round of hearings, which promise to be contentious. If passed, California would become only the third state in the country allowing only medical exemptions. 

Supporters made several compromises to get the bill through.  Immunizations are limtied to 10 in number, but the state has some wiggle room to add more. Gone is a requirement in the original bill that the state notify parents of school immunization rates. The bill exempts home-schooled and independent study students. The bill's authors say they will agree to grandfather in about 13,000 students not fully immunized, a move seen as placating some of the vociferous opposition to the bill. 

Opponents vow to simply move with the bill over to the Assembly and continue their efforts. One opponent was quoted by the San Jose Mercury News:

"The only thing we can do is continue to educate our officials" about the personal belief exemption, said Lisa Bakshi, a mother from Placer County. "The parents who do it now do it for very legitimate reasons. We don't do it because we are uninformed."

 

I don't know where Ms. Bakshi gets her information. Perhaps it is from the despicible Andrew Wakefield, the disgraced British former physician (he was stripped of his license by the authorities) who was on hand in California to oppose the bill. Some of his inane comments to students at California's Life West Chiropractic College:

they [the students] needed to be the “pitchforks and torches” in Sacramento demanding that state legislators reject SB277

[the bill] will open a door toward mandatory vaccinations for people of all ages, and create a “society that is dependent on vaccinations.”

if immunizations are made mandatory . . . Child Protective Services could “take your children away, and they will vaccinate them. And then they will bring them back and leave it to you to pick up the pieces.”

For this craziness, he received not one, but two, standing ovations.

Meanwhile, up in Oregon, a failed attempt to dispense with the personal belief exemption did not deter its supporters from trying a different tactic. Sen. Elizabeth Steiner Hayward was the sponsor of a bill that would have removed all non-medical exemptions, a bill she dropped after opposition that included threats to her and her family from anti-vaccinationists.

Sen. Steiner Hayward is now promoting a bill that would require schools to collect and report to parents data on the number of unvaccinated children in their child's school. Even though the identity of the unvaccinated child would not be divulged, the bill is drawing opposition.  Another provision would make parents seeking an exemption actually see a health care professional licensed to prescribe vaccines for counseling on the subject. Unfortunately, since naturopaths are licensed in Oregon to give vaccinations, they could prove an easier path to exemption. 

Fortunately, the bill received a favorable vote in its first committee hearing and now moves to the budget committee, a necessary step before it can reach the Senate floor. 

Back east, the Vermont House voted on May 12th to eliminate the philosophical exemption to immunization. An amendment that would have retained the exemption but required parents to consult with a health care provider and to review educational materials on the benefits of vaccines didn't make it into the bill. The Senate has already voted to do away with the philosophical exemption. There remain minor differences between the two bills to be worked out. 

And in Connecticut, which recognizes a religious, but not a philosophical, exemption, the House voted to tighten requirements for claiming the exemption. Instead of a one-time exemption claim, the bill would require annual statements, signed before a public official.  According to the Connecticut Mirror,

In public hearing testimony, Dr. Stephen Updegrove of the Connecticut Children's Vaccine Advisory Council had urged the legislature to go further by requiring that parents invoking a religious exemption show they "are practicing members of an organized faith that actually believes in proscribing immunizations, that the tenets of this faith extend to all immunizations and that they be required to have a leader of that faith attest to the existence of these tenets and the participation in this faith by those seeking the exemption."

That didn't make it into the bill. As the news report notes, none of the world's major faiths has an explicit prohibition against vaccination. We can well imagine that a large number of these "religious" exemptions are filed when no philosophical exemption is available. 

During the recent widespread measles outbreak, Mississippi and West Virginia were favorably recognized as two states with medical, but not philosophical or religious, exemptions. West Virginia, to it's credit, passed a bill ensuring an adequate supply of vaccines and requiring coverage of childhood vaccinations by health insurers.  Mississippi's admirable stance on vaccination would have been besmirched by bills introduced there to permit exemptions based on the parents' beliefs. I'm glad to report that the bills failed.  

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