A bill that would reinstate the ability of parents to exempt their children from required vaccinations based on religious beliefs passed the State Senate Education Committee in West Virginia on Thursday.
Senate Bill 537 would allow parents to exempt their child from required vaccines by submitting a notarized certification that the religious beliefs of the signator - the child’s parent or legal guardian - are contrary to required immunizations.
The Education Committee voted 7-6 to send the proposal to the Senate floor, with the recommendation the Senate Health and Human Services Committee first review the measure.
The bill would also eliminate the authority of the Immunization Officer, an appointed position and licensed physician who currently reviews exemption requests.
Two doctors, Dr. Alvin Moss, a professor at the West Virginia University Health Sciences Center, and Dr. Suzanne Humphries, author of the controversial “Dissolving Illusions,” an anti-vaccination book, both testified that vaccinations can be dangerous and ineffective.
Sen. Mike Romano called the proposal an “insult to years of medical progress,” citing Jonas Salk, who developed the polio vaccine.
“I wonder how Jonas Salk would have felt if we eradicated polio only 50 percent of the way, but it was still around and getting transmitted because not everyone got inoculated,” said Romano.
A bill that would have required parents to watch a short video before exempting their child from required vaccinations failed Thursday in the Oklahoma State Senate.
In its original form, Senate Bill 83 aimed to eliminate religious and personal exemptions from required vaccinations for Oklahoma school-children.
After facing significant opposition, the bill’s author, Sen. Ervin Yen, amended the bill while it was debated by the Senate Health and Human Services Committee.
The amended measure, which passed the committee 7-4, would have required parents to watch an informational video about vaccine risks and benefits in order for their child to qualify for a nonmedical exemption from immunization.
The bill failed 16-26, with opponents stating the measure would be burdensome for school districts and for parents.
It might be “a little trouble to watch a video, but it is a little trouble to put your baby in a car seat,” Yen has said of the proposal. “We are just asking [parents] to jump through a few hoops to make sure [they] understand the ramifications of that choice.”
Sen. Micheal Bergstrom said vaccinations save lives and that asking parents to watch a video is not too much.
“If it a hoop to jump through, let them jump through a simple hoop,” said Bergstrom.
Yen introduced similar legislation during the state’s 2015 and 2016 legislative sessions - neither of which made it to the Senate floor for a vote.
Scott Gottlieb, who was announced late last week as President Donald Trump’s choice to lead the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA), does not subscribe to the theory that vaccines cause autism, a widely-discredited claim which the president has historically promoted.
In a 2015 interview, Gottlieb told CNBC that theories of a connection between vaccines and autism had been “thoroughly debunked.”
“For too long, a lot of people’s public statements allowed these myths to propagate,” Gottlieb said during the interview. “They have said things like, ‘well, we don’t think there’s any correlation but we need more research.’ We don’t need more research. At some point, enough is enough.”
Notably, the FDA does not set the United States’ vaccination policy, rather, that is the responsibility of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).
Trump has not yet named his pick to head the CDC, though his recently appointed pick to head Health and Human Services (HHS), the agency under which CDC operates, remarked on vaccination policy in the U.S. this week.
HHS Secretary Tom Price declined to endorse universal vaccination during a CNN “Town Hall” on the Affordable Care Act this week, instead saying only that vaccine regulations should be left up to states.
“Dr. Price, you’re a physician,” commented Wolf Blitzer, one of the town hall’s co-hosts. “You believe in immunizations; you believe all children should get a shot for polio and other diseases.”
“I believe it’s a perfectly appropriate role… for government—this happens by and large at the state government level, because they’re the ones that have public health responsibility—to determine whether or not immunizations are required for a community population,” said Price.
Currently, vaccination requirements for school children are established at the state level based on recommendations researched and provided by the CDC.
A bill that would require students at Indiana public colleges and universities to be vaccinated against meningococcal disease is returning to the State House of Representatives with an amendment added by the Senate.
The Senate version of the bill, Senate Bill 339, passed the Senate this week (33-15), but with an amendment that would repeal an existing measure that requires state educational institutions to provide “detailed information on the risks associated with meningococcal disease and the availability and effectiveness of vaccination” to incoming students or their guardians, if under the age of 18.
The bill was returned to the House for consideration with the amendment.
If passed by the House, the bill would head to Gov. Eric Holcomb’s desk for signature, and could go into effect by July 1, 2018.
The Indiana state legislature adjourns on April 29.
Three bills introduced this legislative session by Utah Rep. Norman Thurston, would implement new requirements pertaining to vaccinations in the state.
House Bill 310 would create a statewide Immunization Information System and require health care providers to input patient’s vaccination records. House Bill 309 would amend vaccination requirements for school attendance by requiring the renewal of a student’s vaccination exemption before beginning 7th grade, among several other technical proposed changes.
House Bill 308, which passed both the Utah House and Senate this week, would require the Department of Health to create an online education module regarding certain preventable diseases and create a new vaccination exemption form.
If signed by Governor Gary Herbert, the bill’s next step to becoming law, HB308 would require parents who choose not to immunize their children to complete an online education program that educates them on how to best protect their child, and others, during an outbreak.
Lacey Eden, a certified family nurse practitioner and a nursing professor at Brigham Young University, reportedly worked with Rep. Thurston to create HB308.
All three of Rep. Thurston’s bills faced backlash from anti-vaccination groups, and a bill similar to HB308 was rejected in last year’s legislative session. Eden said people misunderstood the bill and thought it had a pro-vaccine agenda and would force parents to immunize their children.
“It is important to note that the purpose of the module is not to change a parent’s mind about their decision to exempt their child,” Eden said. “We have a moral responsibility to protect those most vulnerable among us.”
A bill that would have eliminated all nonmedical exemptions from required vaccinations in Oklahoma passed the Senate Health and Human Services Committee this week, after being amended to instead require parents to view a video about vaccines before opting out.
In its first iteration, Senate Bill 83 would have removed religious and personal exemptions from required vaccinations for school-age children. The bill passed the committee 7-4 after Sen. Ervin Yen, the bill’s author and committee chair, removed much of the original language.
Critics of the bill, including members Oklahomans for Vaccine and Health Choice, have said the amended bill is still burdensome to parents.
It might be “a little trouble to watch a video, but it is a little trouble to put your baby in a car seat,” said Yen. “We are just asking [parents] to jump through a few hoops to make sure [they] understand the ramifications of that choice.”
Some opposed to the bill distributed flyers leading up to the committee vote that likened Sen. Yen to notorious dictators, including Adolph Hitler and Pol Pot.
“I find it disgusting that anybody would liken a member of this body to Hitler or to Pol Pot,” said Sen. Adam Pugh, a committee member who ultimately voted against the bill. “A man who killed off almost half of his population in Cambodia. That is disgusting to me”
In response to a bill that would make it even easier for Idaho parents to exempt their children from required vaccinations, the state’s Department of Health and Welfare unveiled a new and shorter vaccine exemption form.
Senate Bill 1050, which would make it easier for parents to opt their children out of required vaccinations, was introduced by the Senate Health and Welfare Committee in early February.
Idaho already allows parents to claim exemptions from vaccinations based on medical, religious or philosophical reasons - all by filling out a form supplied by the state’s Department of Health and Welfare.
Senate Bill 1050, however, would eliminate the need for a government form entirely, and rather allow parents to write a letter excusing their children from vaccines.
Not long after the bill’s introduction, with the aim of maintaining some level of standardization in the state’s vaccine records, the Department of Health and Welfare introduced a proposal to instate a new, shorter vaccine opt-out form.
Proponents of Senate Bill 1050, including members of Health Freedom Idaho, reportedly expressed similar concerns with the new form as the old one - the parent would have to sign next to the statement “I am aware that my child may contract a vaccine-preventable disease,” a statement which has been interpreted as “promoting vaccination.”
Senate Bill 1050 is not the only vaccine-related measure state legislators have considered this session.
Last month, the House voted 26-44 to kill a bill that would have improved the accuracy of state immunization records by requiring providers to enter into the Idaho Immunization Reminder Information System when people are vaccinated.
In 2014, Idaho had the highest vaccine exemption rate of any state in the country.