Coloradan parents whose children are exempt from vaccines say their parental rights are being infringed upon in the vaccine bill sent to Gov. Jared Polis to sign on June 13.
The amended School Entry Immunization bill, or Senate Bill 163 (pdf), sponsored by Democratic state representative Kyle Mullica, aims to improve the state’s vaccination rate, particularly the MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) vaccine in kindergartners. “This bill represents an important step toward streamlining our immunization process and boosting our state’s low vaccination rates without removing anyone’s ability to claim an exemption,” Mullica told the Denver Post.
Opponents of the bill claim that there is a solution to raising the low vaccination rates the bill seeks to address—schools enforcing a state law to go after missing immunization paperwork.
But instead, the bill will require parents to get a medical provider to sign a standardized form stating their exemption every school year, or complete an online educational course on vaccines to receive a certification of completion to submit to the school. The bill also mandates schools to create and distribute to families an annual report of the vaccination and exemption rates.
Another blow for parents seeking exemptions is that the bill will not hold any medical professional liable if they don’t sign the form.
Carolyn Martin, home-school legislative liaison for Christian Home Educators of Colorado agreed that doctors shouldn’t be forced to sign “anything against their conscience,” but she worried how many of them will sign the exemption form. “We already have a hard enough time getting doctors to sign a medical exemption, much less personal or religious belief,” she told The Epoch Times.
The number of doctors signing medical exemptions in Colorado is so low (at 0.3 percent or less) that the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment (CDPHE) wrote it off as zero in its 2015-16 Kindergarten School Immunization Survey.
Under the bill, home-school families who participate in sports or summer camps at a public school have to follow the new requirements.
Martin said there is a misconception that home-schoolers don’t vaccinate their children. “There’s a lot of people in our group that do vaccinate,” she said.
The home-schooler group is concerned about the bill because “it’s more about parental rights and religious freedom,” she said.
The bill also states that religious and personal belief exemptions will be lumped together as a non-medical exemption.
Schools Need to Do More
Opponents of the bill say that if school districts in Colorado enforce state law 6 CCR 1009-2 that requires parents to submit their child’s vaccine information or a statement of exemption due to a medical, religious, or personal belief to go to school or be expelled, the vaccination rate would increase without having passed the bill.
“There’s a lot of missing records, and when schools follow up to get the rest of the information, exemption rates go down and vaccination rates go up,” Theresa Wrangham, executive director of the National Vaccine Information Center, told The Epoch Times.
CDPHE’s immunization data for the school year 2018-2019 shows that many schools were missing vaccine information, and that if schools gathered more such data, it would improve the vaccination rate.
When Boulder Valley school district began enforcing the law for the first time during the 2018-19 school year, the district said, the “percentage of Boulder Valley students who are fully vaccinated is going up as the district contacts families ahead of the deadline,” according to the Daily Camera.
Yet proponents of the bill, like Colorado Vaccinates, a “coalition of groups dedicated to improving Colorado’s vaccination rates,” say that policies are needed to improve the numbers to “help ensure safer schools and child care and healthier communities.”
Wrangham said parents using the exemptions only make up a small group in Colorado and it doesn’t make sense that their deeply held beliefs should be questioned by a doctor in order to get an exemption form signed.
Pam Long, a Medical Intelligence Officer for NATO Peacekeeping Forces and spokesperson for the Colorado Health Choice Alliance, said it’s difficult to understand the reasoning behind the bill if the main concern is to increase the immunization rates, something that can be achieved by simply having parents who don’t turn in the paperwork do so.
She also said the lower MMR vaccine rate for kindergarten is not a fair assessment because the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends the second dose of MMR at the ages of 4-6. The kindergarten data will, therefore, be low as some students will wait to get the vaccine in first grade.
“They’re saying, ‘We’re 89 percent, oh we’re terrible, worst in the nation.’ But when you look at the statewide data, we’re 95 percent on the schedule,” Long told The Epoch Times.
Long, a mother of a vaccine-injured child, said she is not against vaccines and has been vaccinated herself, but does not believe in the one-size-fits-all vaccine paradigm for children. She said her son began slowly regressing verbally, socially, and mentally after his first MMR shot at 15 months old.
“I knew it wasn’t genetic because I had a healthy child one day, and then I had a kid who looked like he was going deaf and it’s just a downward spiral,” she said.
Her son was eventually diagnosed around the age of 3 with encephalopathy, a brain inflammation, due to the measles virus from the MMR vaccine. Even a year-and-a-half later, tests showed he still “had [an] active measles infection.”
The current vaccine schedule recommended by the CDC for a toddler at 15 months is 26 injections of 13 different vaccines if an annual influenza vaccine is included.
According to the National Council of State Legislatures, the school immunization laws allow medical exemptions in all 50 states. Religious exemptions are granted in 45 states, including the District of Columbia, and only 15 states have philosophical exemptions for people who refuse vaccines due to “personal, moral, or other beliefs.”
Polis is expected to sign the bill.