Around the nation, lawmakers are proposing measures at the state and federal level to change the issue of parents and immunization requirements for their children.
Connecticut Sen. Chris Murphy is proposing legislation that would encourage states to warn parents of the health risks from not immunizing their children. The Democrat plans to introduce a bill in the U.S. Senate that would provide incentives to states that require parents who want a non-medical exemption from having their child vaccinated to be informed of the risks. Murphy was scheduled to discuss his legislation on Friday at a news conference in Hartford at the Connecticut Children's Medical Center. Hospital officials and state lawmakers planned to be on hand to discuss the importance of children receiving vaccinations against highly contagious diseases.
In Nebraska, the focus is on middle and high school age kids with a bill that would require two rounds of meningitis vaccinations for students between seventh grade and age 16. The bill is unlikely to become law this year because its sponsor pushed it to the bottom of the state's legislative agenda amid filibuster threats. Sen. Bob Krist said the bill should not be confused with the national vaccine debate surrounding the recent measles outbreaks because the meningitis vaccine is a proven solution to a widespread problem. The Nebraska health department confirms no official cases of meningitis in 2014 but said the effectiveness of the vaccine fades to 58 percent between the second and fifth years. Other senators have expressed concern that vaccinations for what they call more widespread illnesses, such as human papillomavirus should be considered before a mandatory meningitis vaccine. A compromise to the measure would allow parents to opt out for philosophical as well as religious reasons.
To put this debate into perspective, between 1,000 and 1,200 people get meningococcal disease, a form of meningitis, each year, according for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Ten to 15 percent of these people die. The disease leaves 11 to 19 percent of survivors with scarring, amputated limbs, seizures and strokes.
Meanwhile, a spokeswoman for Texas Gov. Greg Abbott says he encourages all parents to have their children vaccinated but supports Texas law allowing families to opt out of them. Abbott spokeswoman Amelia Chasse said the governor "recognizes the important public health benefits of vaccines" and noted that his daughter was vaccinated. But Chasse said Abbott "supports current Texas law that he believes strikes the right balance." Since 2003, Texas has allowed parents to opt out of vaccinating their children if they have medical reasons for doing so or religious or personal objections. The law drew national attention after a recent measles outbreak. As he mounts an expected 2016 presidential run, Abbott predecessor Rick Perry has defended the law but says vaccination rates rose during his tenure.
The National Education Association in Vermont is now getting behind legislation that would remove the philosophical exemption to vaccines for parents who don't want their children immunized. Vermont-NEA President Martha Allen says the fact that almost a third of Vermont's public schools have vaccination rates lower than what's considered safe is alarming and unacceptable. She says now that the country is seeing the worst measles outbreak since it was eradicated nearly 15 years ago, it's time to make sure children who can be vaccinated gets the protection they and society deserve. Vermont is in the top three states for people taking the exemption, however, a similar effort by lawmakers failed three years ago.
One state that is not looking to change its childhood vaccination law is Mississippi, which has one of the strongest in the country. A bill to weaken the law died in this legislative session because it was not voted on before a deadline. This measure would have cleared the way for a doctor to grant a medical exemption for vaccinations without seeking approval from the state Health Department. Lawmakers say it's no longer needed, because the health department is now granting more exemptions based on medical care. Mississippi and West Virginia are the only two states that don't allow people to avoid vaccinating their children because of religious or personal beliefs. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that for 2013-14, Mississippi had the largest percentage of kindergartners in public and private schools who have been vaccinated against diseases. Mississippi had a 99.7 percent vaccination rate for that age group for three vaccines: measles, mumps and rubella; the diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis; and varicella. The national median was 93.3 to 95 percent.