The New York Times supplies the context for today’s bit of tough love:
The measles outbreak continues to spread in the United States, surpassing 700 cases this year, federal health officials said on Monday. The virus has now been found in 22 states.
More than 500 of the 704 cases recorded as of last Friday were in people who had not been vaccinated, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported. Sixty-six people have been hospitalized.
About 400 of the cases have been found in New York City and its suburbs, mostly in Orthodox Jewish communities. That outbreak has spread to Detroit.
Los Angeles is now experiencing a fast-growing outbreak, and hundreds of university students who are thought to have been exposed and cannot prove that they have had their shots have been asked to quarantine themselves at home.
In 2000, the Centers for Disease Control declared the once-pandemic childhood disease measles to be entirely eradicated in the United States, after decades of consistent vaccination of the population in childhood steadily reduced outbreaks of the disease to nil. Unfortunately, since that moment of public health success a wave of misinformation about common childhood vaccines and in particular a now-discredited claim that vaccines are responsible for the rise in diagnosed cases of autism spectrum disorder (ASD) has eroded the rate of childhood vaccinations enough for outbreaks to resume, steadily increasing in severity to the crisis presently underway.
In Colorado, where our rate of kindergarten vaccination is an embarrassing dead last in the nation, this renewed outbreak is taking place at the same time as a debate over legislation to tighten the state’s extremely permissive regulations for childhood vaccinations. Today, parents can claim a “personal belief” exemption from vaccinating their children with no restrictions on those children attending public school. The bill being debated today would not eliminate that exemption, but would require parents to take the additional step of filing in person at a state health department office to receive it.
And as the Denver Post’s Anna Staver reports, that’s where Gov. Jared Polis draws the line–and it’s creating significant blue-on-blue controversy in this fraught final week of the legislative session:
The Colorado Hospital Association and other health care experts across Colorado also responded strongly Friday to comments from the governor — first reported by Colorado Public Radio — that he didn’t support the current bill, House Bill 1312, to make some vaccination exemptions more difficult for parents to get.
“On behalf of Children’s Hospital Colorado, I was disappointed to see the governor’s comments this morning,” said Jessica Cataldi, a pediatrician who specializes in infectious diseases. “The multiple measles outbreaks across the country represent a public health crisis that must be addressed. I hope the governor will reconsider his position.”
[Rep. Kyle] Mullica’s bill would require parents to visit a state health department office and fill out a form in person the first time they request a personal or religious vaccine exemption for a child entering public school. Currently they need only provide written notice to the school district upon registration.
Early this year, Gov. Polis scuttled much stronger legislation also sponsored by Rep. Kyle Mullica that would have eliminated the personal exemption entirely. House Bill 19-1312, the current bill to make it moderately more difficult but not impossible to claim that exemption, was criticized by Polis Friday over requiring parents seeking a personal belief exemption from vaccinating their kids to apply in person with the state health department.
Like we said in February, no one can accuse Gov. Polis of being a so-called “anti-vaxxer,” meaning someone who actually believes these discredited theories about vaccine safety. Polis has had his own children vaccinated and makes clear that everyone needs to do so. There’s a world of difference between Polis’ concern about not being overly punitive in government’s approach to this public health problem versus Republicans in the state legislature who have openly supported anti-vaccine pseudoscience in their opposition to the bill. We believe that Polis means well in trying to strike a balance.
Unfortunately, the timing of this intransigence could not be worse–and after already lowering the expectations of what is signable legislation even in the midst of a nationwide measles outbreak, Polis risks energizing the side of the vaccine debate he claims and we believe he doesn’t side with. The resurgence of preventable disease attributable to ignorance and misinformation–no matter how well intentioned or sacred–is a greater threat than the inconvenience of applying in person for an exemption.
The 11% of Coloradans who don’t vaccinate their kids make more noise than the 89% who do.
But politically, siding with the 89% should be an easy choice.