Cracking Down On Vaccine Scofflaws: No Brainer, Right?

Measles.

Denver7’s Jennifer Kovaleski reports on legislation awaited in the Colorado General Assembly that would tighten Colorado’s very loose standards for immunization of children in order to attend public school, proposing the elimination of a “personal belief” exemption considered responsible for the state’s bottom-of-the-nation ranking on immunizations even ask preventable epidemics rage in other states:

Colorado has the lowest rate of vaccinations in the nation, with less than 89 percent of kindergarteners receiving vaccinations to prevent illness such as measles and bumps — far less than the national average and 95 percent threshold needed to prevent an outbreak.

“To hear that we were last in the entire country was concerning, it was embarrassing,” said Rep. Kyle Mullica, D-Northglenn. “This is not a political issue, this is about our kids being safe.”

Mullica is drafting legislation that could eliminate the personal belief exemption in Colorado, which lets parents opt out of vaccinating their kids for personal reasons.

We’ve written at length in this space about battles over child immunization policy in the Colorado state legislature in the past few years, mostly stemming from a push from suburban Republican lawmakers like former Sens. Tim Neville and Laura Woods to further weaken the state’s already highly permissive standards. Sen. Woods warned baselessly of children being “rounded up and vaccinated” in Denver schools, while Neville tried to do away with the opt-out waiver process for immunizations altogether as a “privacy issue.”

Woods and Neville represented an extreme on the issue of vaccinations, but as Denver7 continues, the opposition to Rep. Kyle Mullica’s bill to eliminate the personal belief exemption–a significant step in the other direction–includes as of this writing none other than Gov. Jared Polis himself:

“Governor Polis is concerned about how low vaccination rates negatively impact public health. He believes there are successful strategies we can use to increase vaccination rates that don’t put big government in the middle of the parent-child relationship and protect our freedom,” a spokeswoman said in a statement. “Governor Polis believes that forcing people to receive shots they don’t want creates mistrust of government, mistrust of vaccinations, and would ultimately backfire and hurt public health.” [Pols emphasis]

And with that, we have a disagreement that is no longer a clean partisan split–which it never really was, despite the recent backward push on the issue from local Republicans. It’s not entirely unexpected either, after the Colorado Sun’s John Frank reported last week that Polis opposed mandatory vaccinations in Congress–even though Gov. Polis makes clear that his own children have been vaccinated and he personally thinks it’s the right thing to do.

With outbreaks of preventable diseases in other states continuing to lend urgency to the debate over Colorado’s low rate of childhood vaccinations just as they did a few years ago when Neville and Woods brought their ill-conceived legislation, and all credible research continuing to soundly reject the idea that vaccines produce the vast range of negative health effects its often pseudoscientific critics insist they do…

Sorry, folks, but this is not an issue that has any room for political spin. If Rep. Mullica’s approach is not the right way to move Colorado out of literal last place with regard to childhood immunizations, let’s hear the alternative. Because the problem is not up for responsible debate.

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  1. NeonNurseNeonNurse says:

    Of course now that I need it I can't find the passage I want. But recently I was reading My Own Words by Ruth Bader Ginsburg, and found an interesting bit about Roe vs Wade. She indulged in a sort of thought experiment, wondering if another similar case might have also achieved its important change in social reality, but without churning the massive and ongoing blowback by those who are anti-abortion. She told of a case about a nurse in Vietnam who refused to get an abortion because of her beliefs and almost lost her whole career (it got settled before it went to the Supreme Court), which she thought might have had a slower but better long term effect. She compared it with Brown v Board of Ed, which tackled just one issue (though a very important one), but one that paved the way for ongoing change.  (Note: I'm going totally from memory here, and could be off a bit in some details.)

    I thought of this when I recently read about Jared wanting to find a different way to fight the pernicious anti-vaxxing ideas. I have no insights or useful suggestions, but…yeah, maybe there are better ways to put out a fire than by throwing gas on it.  But also better than leaving it all to Father Darwin's harsh judgement.

     

  2. JohnInDenverJohnInDenver says:

    There are other states with approaches obviously doing better than last-place Colorado.  There are other nations who obviously do better.   There are health professional organizations and public health agencies who have considered the issues and made recommendations.  Granted, someone needs to be "last" in a listing of states, but it shouldn't be Colorado.  So, what approach would be more effective?

    Personally, I'd be a big fan of making anyone wanting to avoid vaccination complete an appropriate medical information course and show awareness of the science behind the national vaccine injury program and the public health department's understanding of the consensus on vaccines.  They don't necessarily have to agree — but they would need to articulate the science. Then, if they want to ignore it, go for it.

    • PseudonymousPseudonymous says:

      Huh?  The problem isn't them being ignorant, it's their kids being unvaccinated.  They're not taking a risk for themselves alone, they're risking the lives and welfare of others around them.

      Vaccines aren't an option, they're a necessity.

  3. VoyageurVoyageur says:

    You wanna kill yourself because you believe in Christian Science or Jehovah's witnesses or any other suicidal sect, be my guest — if you're 21.  But you can't kill your kids or mine to feed your religious or political fantasies. 

  4. I suppose there's always the "it's all fine until…" option: your child's belief exemption is ok until a school falls below the 95% threshold, at which time a 30-day notice goes out; if the school doesn't come up to 95% after 30 days, all personal belief exemption children are barred from the school. It's cruel, but it puts the onus on the anti-vaxx community to find a solution…

    We could force belief exemption requesters to validate that it's a religious belief and not just a belief in Jenny McCarthy, but chances are that people would just lie.

    I suppose you could try an education campaign, but chances are that most of these parents consider their knowledge on the subject to be pretty thorough.

    • PseudonymousPseudonymous says:

      Cruel?  What's cruel about it?  What's cruel is risking the lives and welfare of whole communities to indulge the fantasies of vaccine truthers.  These kids don't stay in their schools, they travel around to other peoples' homes, to stores, to sporting events, to other states and countries.  What value does evaluating the percentage of kids in a particular school being vaccinated have?

      Who cares if it's a religious belief?  Your god won't stop someone else's kid from coming down with measles.

      No exemptions except medical exemptions, and those reviewed by the health board to ensure that some nutjob doctor isn't handing them out like candy.

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