The vaccine wars opened up again in Colorado April 13, 2017, with the hearing of Senate Bill 17-250 in the Senate Health and Human Services Committee. Since 2011, there has been an annual attempt to “strengthen” vaccine exemption policy in Colorado, an expression for making it more difficult for parents to exercise their lawful rights to exempt their child from any or all vaccines recommended for school registration.[1]

But this year, with SB17-250, there was a change in direction on this issue. This bill aimed to clarify an existing statute (C.R.S. 25-4-903) that has been in place since 1978. The law states that all that is required for a parent to exercise a lawful vaccine exemption for their child to attend school is to submit a statement of exemption to the school. In 2016, CDPHE attempted to “strengthen” vaccine exemption policy by creating an official state exemption form to be submitted online to the state tracking database known as the Colorado Immunization Information System (CIIS). This form required an unprecedented amount of personally identifying information (PII), including the student’s address. Many lawmakers found this data collection too intrusive, and HB16-1164, a bill to transfer these additional immunization exemption duties to CDPHE, died in the House. Nonetheless, CDPHE implemented the form in June 2016 without legislative authority, claiming that administrative powers gave them the authority to make substantive changes to longstanding statute, such as changing a written document to an online form for inclusion in a state database, and changing the collection agency from the local school to a state agency.

Lawyers from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) and Colorado Coalition for Vaccine Choice (CCVC) protested the lack of rule making process necessary to implement the form. The form requires an exempting parent to agree with a statement saying they are putting their child at risk for vaccine preventable diseases. They argue that this “compelled speech” is not balanced with any citations of the risks of contraindications and adverse reactions from vaccines. Parents argue that CDPHE is interfering with the doctor-patient relationship that is best suited to make vaccine decisions for each child’s unique health history, and the form language equates to confession of child abuse. Parents emphasize that schools operate under local control, and CDPHE has no authority in statute to collect PII from students.

Lawmakers are caught in the tension of the need to protect parental rights to make decisions for their children, and also the requirement to protect the public health. Public health advocates claim that vaccine exemptions put the herd at risk for potential outbreaks. Colorado public health authorities use mathematical models to project hypothetical costs of potential outbreaks. And parents worry about the cumulative effect of the current 70-dose vaccine schedule[2], with 6,150 mcg of IQ-lowering aluminum adjuvants.[3] So what does real data show for outcomes for children on the current schedule? There are zero research studies at the U.S. National Library of Medicine database on the cumulative effects of 70 vaccine doses and cognitive abilities.

The tables below compare 15 schools in Colorado who have the highest vaccine exemption rates and 15 schools who have a zero exemption rate, and their corresponding reading proficiency scores. The data show that the schools with the highest vaccine exemption rates average an 85 percent reading proficiency and schools with zero vaccine exemptions average a 47 percent reading proficiency.

Affluence is likely a co-factor in these differences, but this profound disparity in outcomes is worthy of attention. This data refutes accusations that parents who use vaccine exemptions are irresponsible or uneducated. Student populations with one or more exemptions are excelling academically over fully vaccinated students. Until we get a better understanding of these differences in outcomes that are worthy of investigation, bills like SB17-250 should be seriously considered. This bill was a simple measure that aimed to provide clarity in existing statute outlining parent’s legal requirements should they wish to exercise a vaccine exemption.

SB17-250 passed the Senate Health Committee 3-1, with a majority of witnesses in support. However, the bill failed to pass the Senate floor vote on April 19, when Sen. Kevin Priola, R-Henderson, and Sen. Beth Martinez Humenik, R-Thornton, a self-proclaimed “germophobe,” broke away from party lines against the Republican majority and voted against the bill. As an Army veteran who has been fully vaccinated for worldwide deployment with 28 vaccine doses during my life, I think parents of developing children have good reason to take caution and be selective with the current vaccine schedule of 70 doses.

Data notes:

[1] http://www.cuanschutztoday.org/states-can-lower-risk-measles-outbreak-strengthening-exemption-policies/

[2] https://www.nvic.org/CMSTemplates/NVIC/pdf/49-Doses-PosterB.PDF

[3] http://articles.mercola.com/sites/articles/archive/2015/03/31/aluminum-vaccines.aspx

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