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June 12, 2020 09:53 AM UTC

Endnotes: The Ridiculous Hullaballoo Over Senate Bill 163

  • by: Colorado Pols

In today’s The Spot newsletter, Denver Post political reporter Alex Burness offers some useful context as the battle over Senate Bill 163, legislation to improve Colorado’s bottom-in-the-nation childhood immunization rates, comes to a successful conclusion for proponents:

[I]t has taken a Democrat-controlled General Assembly two years to muster support to pass a bill that allows parents to… still not vaccinate their kids.

This year’s bill preserves the right to nonmedical exemptions. You just have to take an online education course first. The opponents aren’t happy about that, but the bottom line is that no parent is going to be forced to watch a needle be plunged into their kid, even after this bill passes.

Other states have stricter policies; some allow no exemptions except for medical reasons. Colorado lawmakers have concluded that this is not a legislative option here, which is a credit to A) the governor’s stated “pro-choice” stance on vaccines and B) the fervent activism of the vaccine bill’s opponents.

Burness argues that the passage of SB-163, even though opponents have vowed to mount a repeal ballot initiative campaign to prevent the law from taking effect, betrays a hard limit on the ability of today’s lawmakers to take effective action even on an issue with overwhelming majority support–due to the fierce opposition of a small but vocal minority. Vaccines are not the only issue for which this appears to be the case. Even though the public strongly supports common-sense gun safety laws that our state is a model for today, passage of those bills resulted in a backlash from the passionate minority of gun rights activists that led to the successful recall of two Democratic Senators in 2013 and the resignation of a third.

One of the biggest problems with both this year’s modest vaccine bill as well as 2013’s gun safety bills is that the opposition was (and is) completely untethered from the facts about the legislation. Just as Republican lawmakers told the public in 2013 that the gun bills would “effectively ban gun ownership,” many of the protesters who turned out against Senate Bill 163 believe the bill does away with non-medical exemptions from school vaccination requirements. Although a majority of the public would support doing just that according to polls, SB-163 does not eliminate exemptions available for any or no reason.

There were a lot of variables involved in the drafting of this legislation, not least of which is a governor reticent to impose “medical mandates” on families. Gov. Jared Polis is expected to sign SB-163 precisely because it does not coerce anyone to get any vaccine. The gulf between perception and reality with this bill among its opponents is not the fault of Gov. Polis, however, and the Republican lawmakers who have eagerly embraced the “anti-vaxxer” movement in opposition to this bill are the ones making no attempt to give opponents factual information.

With that, we’ll ask our readers: is there any way to prevent the tail from wagging the dog? Will the fringe always wield disproportionate influence simply because of their ability to yell louder and longer? And will passing a modest reform now make further reforms that would still enjoy broad public support harder to pass later?

These are all questions worth answering as the dust settles on this particularly crazy fight.


5 thoughts on “Endnotes: The Ridiculous Hullaballoo Over Senate Bill 163

  1. Fucking ridiculous.  Also ridiculous to permit non-medical exemptions.  But then again, trump is president, so the insane has become normalized

  2. When I went to college, we were told that we didn't have to get a measles booster.  But if we didn't, and there were any cases in the area, we wouldn't be allowed on campus.  This seems like a good way to keep everyone else safe from the antivaxxers.  Doesn't keep their kids safe, but apparently we can't do that politically.

  3. I'm not encouraged by looking at a couple of public health initiatives. 

    Consider smoking — 1964 Surgeon General report is pretty damn clear — smoking sickens and kills people. Multiple rounds of efforts to constrain smoking, making it much more expensive, harassing the companies that produce cigarette, limiting spaces where smoking is allowed, developing a fairly sizeable industry devoted to quitting smoking, creating informal social pressures about smoking around other people (especially kids) — and 14% of American adults continue to smoke two generations later. And virtually no push for cigarette bans based on "expected" health problems.  It took something novel happening to take down E-cigarettes.

    And the flu vaccine … versions in use since 1940s, pushed hard during an epidemic in the 1950s and 1970s (with some having side effects).  New, safer variants from 2003 on.  For the past decade, various flu shots

     * have been shown to be effective at immunization or at least reduction of illness;

     * while the illness creates an estimated death toll ranging from 40,000 to 80,000 (mainly among the unvaccinated) for the past couple of decades, 

     * virtually free of side effects (no, you don't get the flu from the shot);

     * covered by insurance, made low price by numerous vendors, and pharmacies offering promotional discounts for those who get their shot. 

     * a strong annual push for "have you gotten your flu shot" … PSAs, doctors and pharmacists, health

    and the estimate for the 2018-19 season among adults were 45% getting them, 54% not. Among those under 18, 62% got a shot.  And virtually NO initiative to make the flu shot mandatory.

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