Vaccine Exemption Bills Continue to Be Debated Throughout the Nation

In South Dakota, a bill introduced by the House Majority Leader would prevent schools and colleges from requiring vaccinations for students. Here is the pertinent text of the bill:

“No child entering public or nonpublic school, or a public or nonpublic early childhood program in this state, may be required to receive any immunization or medical procedure for enrollment or entry. The Department of Health may recommend any immunization for school entry but may not require them. No school may use any coercive means to require immunization.”

Furthermore, the bill criminalizes the act of compelling a person to be immunized, effectively putting hospitals and other healthcare institutions at risk of running afoul of the law if they require their staff to get the yearly influenza vaccine like so many institutions are doing.

In Connecticut, legislators are debating a bill that would end religious exemptions to immunization requirements, much like it was done in California recently. Groups in Connecticut are opposed to the bill on grounds that it would impede on their choice to immunize their children. The bill is scheduled for debate later this month.

In Colorado, Governor Jared Polis has stated that he will support a bill to tighten non-medical exemptions. According to The Denver Post:

“The Senate bill, unveiled Monday, would require parents seeking an exemption for nonmedical reasons to first speak with an immunizing provider and then have the provider sign an exemption form to submit to the school, or take an online class about vaccinations, print the confirmation and submit it to the school with their exemption form. Currently, parents simply must sign a request and submit it to their children’s school.

The bill is likely be popular outside the Capitol. Polling released by Democratic-leaning Keating Research on Monday indicates that 73% of Coloradans support requiring parents who are opting their children out of vaccines to get a form signed by a doctor before sending their kids to school. The group interviewed 500 voters across the state in October, and the poll has a margin of error of 4.4%.

The results showed bipartisan support across regions throughout the state, with 79% of Democrats supporting the exemption requirements in the bill, 73% of unaffiliated voters and 67% of Republicans.”

In Maine, a referendum on March 3, 2020, will test the state’s recent law that did away with non-medical exemptions. According to Maine Public Radio:

“On March 3, Maine voters will be asked to overturn a new law that eliminates religious and philosophical exemptions for child vaccinations. The campaigns both for and against Question 1 say there’s much more at stake than the fate of the new law.

The Yes and No campaigns for Question 1 held back-to-back press conferences in packed rooms at the State House Tuesday morning. The Yes campaign, which spearheaded the veto referendum, was first up.

Co-chair Cara Sacks says Maine voters should repeal what she calls a draconian law that takes away the right to cite personal and religious reasons for exempting schoolchildren, as well as employees of nursery schools and health care facilities, from mandatory vaccinations.

But opponents of Question 1 — those who want to preserve Maine’s new law — say it has everything to do with public health. The group is backed by dozens of health care organizations, including the Maine Medical Association. Family physician Dr. Amy Madden, president of the association, she says childhood vaccination is one of the most critical public health initiatives of our time.

“Advances in modern medicine have made vaccine-preventable illnesses like measles essentially a thing of the past. I say ‘essentially’ because should we lose this community immunity, then we risk the reemergence of outbreaks of measles or other vaccine-preventable illnesses,” she says.

Pediatrician Dr. Laura Blaisdell, co-chair for No on 1, says the state is already heading down that path. Last year’s School Immunization Report for Maine found that several counties have dropped below the herd immunity target of 95 percent, and the vast majority of exemptions are nonmedical.”

Finally, in California, opponents to the recent bills to eliminate non-medical exemptions and to regulations giving oversight to medical exemptions (preventing them from being sold) launched a recall effort of State Senator Richard Pan, the author of the bills. They failed to get enough signatures for a recall, falling short of the required 61,224 signatures. In fact, they submitted none by the Feburary 3, 2020, deadline. This is not the first time a recall of Senator Pan has been tried. The last time, in 2015, supporters of the recall effort also failed to submit a single signature.

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Author: René F. Najera, DrPH

I am the editor of the History of Vaccines site, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia. All opinions expressed on these blog posts are not necessarily those of the College or any of my employers. Check out my professional profile on LinkedIn: https://www.linkedin.com/in/renenajera Feel free to follow me on Twitter: @EpiRen

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