The latest unprecedented outbreak of measles, starting in California and up to 132 cases in that state as of March 6, has led several state legislatures to consider bills that would tighten up school vaccine exemptions and improving parent education regarding immunizations. Naturally, this led to claims that government was trying to remove choice and personal belief. Some of those complaints are against bills aimed at removing non-medical exemptions. And some oppose bills similar to AB 2109, like Minnesota's SF380/HF393.
Senate File 380 and House File 393, like the successfully passed California Assembly Bill 2109, modify the current state laws on exemptions to school immunization requirements. If passed, Minnesota parents who wish to opt their children out of school vaccinations would have to talk with a physician about the risks and benefits of vaccines, indicate which vaccines are being declined, and acknowledge that, in the event of an outbreak for which the child has not been vaccinated, the child may be excluded from school. Currently, Minnesota law just requires that the parent sign a notarized statement that specific vaccines have been declined due to conscientiously held beliefs. The only substantive changes are the acknowledgment that the parents are aware their child could be excluded from school during an outbreak and that they must speak to a physician about risks and benefits. The bills ensure that parents not only retain the choice to opt their children out of school immunization requirements, but further ensures that they are making an informed choice.
Despite the benign nature of the bills, anti-vaccine groups are opposed to the measure. It is just one of several bills that the NVIC opposes. National Health Freedom ACTION argues that the proposed changes would impose barriers on parents' "fundamental right to decline vaccines". The Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota similarly argues that the bills restrict parents' "fundamental rights". Interestingly, the two organizations share more than just language. Jerri Johnson sits on the boards of both groups, the latter of which also includes on their board anti-vaccine activists Jennifer Larson (who uses her wealth to try to influence Federal legislators to an anti-vaccine viewpoint, which makes me wonder if she has "donated" to any MN legislators to try to defeat these bills) and Nancy Hokkanen, who has also been on the board of AHFA, mistakenly believes that autism is mercury poisoning (a la Mark Geier), comparing use of mercury to genocide, and contributes to the anti-vaccine blog Age of Autism.
The activists who oppose SF380/HF393 are attempting to frame this as an infringement of parental rights. However, these bills do not remove any rights. Parents are still free to refuse immunizations that would protect their children from preventable diseases. They can go to any physician that provides immunizations to get the required signature affirming that they have received information on the risks and benefits of vaccines. This is not an onerous barrier, but rather provides valuable and accurate information on vaccines and the diseases they prevent.
Yet anti-vaccine activists, even those outside of Minnesota, have not limited their opposition to just online statements. They have been contacting state legislators, asking them to oppose the bills. Those who value true informed choice and public health need to speak up and show support for this legislation. Too often, we remain silent until things go bad. By that point, it's too late. Make your voice heard. A sample letter can be found at Moms Who Vax.
Contact the following representatives and encourage them to support HF 393:
Rep. Tara Mack (chair): email@example.com (Phone: 651-296-5506)Contact the following senators to ask them to support SF 380:
Rep. Roz Peterson (co-chair): firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. Jeff Backer: email@example.com
Rep. Dave Baker: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. Matt Dean: email@example.com
Rep. Nels Pierson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Rep. Duane Quam: email@example.com
Rep. Joe Schomacker: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sen. Kathy Sheran (Chair): email@example.comThe anti-vaccine activists opposing these bills don't want you to speak up. They want you to remain silent. Stand up for parents' rights to be informed with accurate, science-based information about vaccinations. Speak up for children's health.
Sen. Melissa H. Wiklund: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sen. Michelle R. Benson: email@example.com
Sen. John A. Hoffman: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sen. Tony Lourey: email@example.com
Sen. Carla J. Nelson: firstname.lastname@example.org
Sen. Sean R. Nienow: email@example.com
Sen. Julie A. Rosen: firstname.lastname@example.org
[Edited to Add (3/12/15): There is a large (119 cases and counting) outbreak of measles near Montreal that began when one unvaccinated child went to Disneyland and contracted the disease. That child and their family are part of a religious community in which many of its members are unvaccinated. It's a good example of what happens when parents are not properly informed about vaccines.]