There has clearly been a political awakening in this country and people are once again motivated to make their voices heard in regard to political policies. When it comes to protecting our nation’s health and maintaining our personal freedoms, there are plenty of differences in opinion.
In a recent VaxTalk podcast hosted by Voices for Vaccines, Every Child By Two Board Member Sarah Depres and Immunize Texas member Jinny Su, discuss the potential impact proposed federal and state policies could have on the health of our nation and our local communities. More importantly, they explain how everyday citizens are being encouraged to actively engage with their legislators on these issues.
Federal Policies and Their Impact on the Prevention of Disease
To start, Ms. Depres explains how the American Healthcare Act and the President’s proposed budget may impact the availability, accessibility and affordability of immunization services across the country. While these policies are still evolving, she comments that the proposed plans suggest significant budget cuts will be made to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). These two federal agencies are currently responsible for the majority of federal immunization programs and vaccine oversight. A reduction in their operating budgets will likely have a significant and fairly immediate impact on things such as vaccine safety and oversight, disease surveillance, outbreak response, scientific evaluation of effective immunization practices and research that helps us to understand what interventions work to improve vaccination rates across the U.S..
While some may argue that we can save money by streamlining budgets and consolidating programs, there is a larger concern that must be addressed and it has to do with state level immunization programs. The fact is that the collective work of these agencies has a direct impact on individual state efforts to provide good immunization services to the public. Not only do states benefit from the large-scale research and oversight that the federal government conducts on vaccines, but a large portion of these federal funds trickle down to assist states in their specific efforts to prevent outbreaks that can easily cross state lines. As Ms. Depres explains, infectious diseases have no borders and it is therefore unrealistic and, quite frankly, unacceptable, to put the bulk of responsibility on the states when they are not in the same position that the federal government is to fund large scale programs that we know benefit the country and its citizens as a whole.
Take the state of Nevada as an example. Nevada continues to rank at the bottom of the list for public health spending with just $4.10 per capita and they also happen to be a state with some of the lowest immunization rates in the U.S. In comparison, Idaho, their neighbor to the northeast, spends as much as $94.70 per capita. When The Affordable Care Act was established, it included the Prevention and Public Health Fund (PPHF) to sustain and expand preventive health measures and save the country money typically spend on illness and disease. Fortunately, this fund has supplemented Nevada’s budget with more than $31 million since the fund’s inception, and has had a direct impact on the programs being developed to ensure vaccine access across the state. Unfortunately, with the repeal of the ACA, the PPHF funds are at risk of being eliminated, and Nevada will likely suffer major public health setbacks as a result.
A Surge in State Specific Immunization Related Bills
California Senate Bill 277 would remove the Personal Belief Exemption (PBE) option from the school and child care enrollment requirements and require schools to publicly provide information about their immunization rates. Last week the first hearing of the bill passed the Senate Health Committee in a 6-2 vote. The bill now faces an Education Committee hearing on April 15th at 9am before potentially moving to a Senate floor vote.
But what happens to this bill doesn’t just pertain to parents in California. What happens in California is important to every parent across the country and here’s why…
Unlike Vegas, what happens in California doesn’t stay in California.
Consider the ongoing measles outbreak that is linked to the Disneyland Resort. What began as a single case of measles in a popular tourist location in Anaheim, California quickly spread to 7 states and into both Canada and Mexico. While it’s fascinating to see the dynamics of how diseases spread, this situation illustrates how an outbreak of an infectious disease in one location can quickly spread across the country in a matter of weeks.
As the number of measles cases climbed, healthcare providers and public health professionals grew increasingly concerned. And parents with infants too young to be immunized, and parents of children who are immunocompromised – like Jennifer Hibben-White and Dr. Tim Jacks – grew increasingly angry. The result has been a surge in state bills aimed at tightening school vaccine exemption policies.
School vaccine policies are governed by the states.
What parents may not realize, is that each state governs their own school vaccine requirements. In fact, Every Child By Two was founded in 1991 by Former First Lady Rosalynn Carter and Former Fist Lady of Arkansas Betty Bumpers as a response to a U.S. measles epidemic which sickened more than 55,000 individuals, hospitalized over 11,000 and killed more than 120 people, including young children. In response to this outbreak, the two co-founders traveled the entire nation to alert people about immunization concerns. As a result, they’ve been credited with the passage of laws mandating school-age vaccination requirements in every state and the establishment of immunization coalitions that continue to operate in most states.
While every state allows for valid medical exemptions to vaccinations, states differ as to whether they will allow personal belief or religious exemptions (though very few religions actually oppose vaccines).
Additionally, the procedures by which a parent can obtain an exemption for their child also vary by state. In most states, it can be as easy as a parent signing a piece of paper. In fact, filing an exemption is often much easier than fulfilling the requirement of getting vaccinated. Therefore, it’s presumed that exemptions rates may be on the rise partly because parents are becoming increasingly aware of just how easy they are to get.
Ultimately, the states are accountable for the number of school vaccination exemptions. However, it’s the persistent efforts of vaccine critics that continually encourage parents to refuse vaccines that may be responsible. In fact, there are various websites and forums that are known to assist parents in navigating exemption requirements.
So now, concerned about outbreaks of diseases like measles and whooping cough, and amidst evidence that the current measles outbreak has been driven by those who refuse vaccines, state legislators are looking to address the matter through the introduction of new immunization related bills. There are eight states (CA, MD, OK, VT, WA, NC, ME and RI) with bills that are trying to remove personal belief or religious exemptions. There are four states (CT, NJ, NM and TX) looking to tighten the rules that apply to religious exemptions. There are six states (CO, TX, IL, MN, PA, and OR) trying to add some kind of educational component to current exemption policies. There are plenty of other immunization related bills – estimated to be as many as 110 – under consideration so far this year. Read more…
You would think that by this time of year the influenza season in the United States would be far from over. Sadly, last week’s flu activity proves otherwise.
Although the amount of flu in the U.S. has been decreasing, there was still an additional pediatric death reported last week, bringing the total number of pediatric deaths from influenza this season up to 139. Out of the 2,416 specimens that were tested and reported just last week, 124 (5.1%) were positive for influenza. In reviewing the cumulative data from this current season, it’s also noted that the rate of laboratory-confirmed influenza-associated hospitalizations this season has occurred among 44 per 100,000 people.
When you factor in the likelihood of additional unconfirmed cases, you can see that – despite what many people may think – the flu can be dangerous. And the dangers don’t just lie with those who have underlying medical conditions. This year, 46% of the children hospitalized with the flu had no identified underlying medical conditions.
Can you imagine how devastating it must be for families to lose their perfectly healthy children to influenza?
One family, whose lives where forever changed when they lost their four-year old daughter Amanda, is currently spearheading a Challenge Campaign to help provide funds to Families Fighting Flu and create a new public awareness campaign called Stay in the Game. This campaign is an ambitious effort to educate others by means of print, broadcast and social media which will focus on the seriousness of influenza and the importance of annual vaccination, particularly among pregnant women, new moms, families, educators and health care providers.
In order to fulfill the expectations for this campaign, they must secure an additional $30,000 in funds by July 1st. So, for every donation made to Families Fighting Flu between now and July 1st, Amanda’s parents Alissa and Richard Kanowitz, have generously offered to match funds, dollar-for-dollar, up to $15,000 in order to secure the $30,000 they need. If you would like to contribute a tax-deductible donation for their Stay in the Game campaign, as I have done, simply visit their website here.
Unfortunately, while the Kanowitz family and many other Families Fighting Flu members continue their monumental efforts to increase influenza vaccinations, states like Wisconsin are trying to make it easier for healthcare workers to forego flu vaccines. Despite the research that suggests influenza vaccination among health care workers is a critical way to reduce the transmission of the flu, as well as flu related illness and death, Representative Jeremy Thiesfeldt of Wisconsin is currently sponsoring a bill that would restrict employers from requiring workers to get flu shots. Read more…
Across the U.S., individual state policies determine which immunizations a child needs in order to be permitted to attend school. And each state also has different ways in which parents can obtain exemptions from these requirements. However, as vaccine exemption rates climb, so do outbreaks of vaccine preventable diseases which are threatening the health of our children. Some states are trying to respond by making an effort to legislate their way toward better public health. However, both vaccine supporters and critics maintain different interpretations of “informed consent“.
On the one hand, public health departments are supporting legislation in states such as West Virginia, Oregon, and Vermont that seek to add requirements to an all-too-easy exemption process. Prior to opting out of vaccines for their children, they want parents to be adequately informed of the risks of these decisions. From the public health standpoint, if a parent wants to opt-out of vaccinating their child, the process shouldn’t be any easier than what parents are expected to do to adhere to the vaccine requirement. Therefore, by requiring parents to discuss vaccines with a health care provider, to learn about the risks of not vaccinating, new state legislation is seeking to provide better parental education and information. It would only be expected that this would be welcomed by those who question the safety and efficacy of vaccines.
However, a small but vocal minority of anti-vaccine advocates would like to have legislators believe that these new laws are taking away their “rights” and actually interfering with their perception of informed consent. So they have circled the wagons and are writing letters, calling their legislators and demanding that their choice to refuse vaccination is not only protected, but remains unquestioned. However, if they don’t support vaccine conversations with qualified medical personnel, how can they claim that they are supportive of informed consent? The truth of the matter is that they don’t want their misguided decisions questioned. They would rather remain confident in their decisions by focusing on the minimal risks of vaccinations and ignoring the overwhelmingly proven benefits.
The fact is that public health departments have both science and statistics on their side. For example, children whose parents have exempted them from the measles vaccine are more than 35 times more likely to contract measles compared to vaccinated children. And the exemption data across the country reveals that the easier it is for parents to opt out of required vaccinations, the more likely it is that the vaccination rates will drop. For instance, a 2006 study found that states with loose exemption policies had approximately 50% more cases of whooping cough (pertussis) compared to states with stricter policies. Read more…
It’s a new year and legislators around the country are preparing legislation that affects all of us.
Have you joined our advocacy list yet?
By signing up on Vaccinate Your Baby’s “Get Involved” page, you will receive timely alerts from Every Child By Two on a variety of immunization related issues. Whether it is to share the results of a significant safety study, connect you with journalists who want to hear your perspective, inform you of new immunization recommendations, or address specific legislation, Every Child By Two is a critical resource that is poised to provide you with vital updates.
Here are just a few examples of immunization related actions that are currently being discussed and debated all across the country:
• A new state Senator in South Dakota, Jeff Monroe, R-Pierre, is planning to introduce legislation in early 2013 which will make it easier for parents to opt out of vaccination requirements for religious reasons. (You can read some recent news coverage at ArgusLeader and UPI.)
• Arizona state lawmakers Senator Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix) and Representative Debbie Lesko (R-Glendale) have recently drafted bills that will no longer require vaccinations as a licensing condition to be a foster parent in the state. (This has been covered recently by the Associated Press.) Currently, parents who do not vaccinate their own children are barred from adopting or fostering kids in Arizona’s child-welfare system, but there is pressure from some to change this.
• In Oregon, where school immunization exemption rates are high, there is discussion regarding support for a modification of the current exemption policies. Similar to laws passed in the past few years in Washington and California, Oregon is looking to require education on the dangers of vaccine preventable diseases prior to exemption.
• On a national level, The Institute of Medicine (IOM) just released a detailed report that evaluates the safety of the childhood immunization schedule.
By adding your name to the growing advocacy list, Every Child By Two will keep you informed about national and state specific policy issues that affect the health and well-being of your children and your community. They will even suggest specific ways in which you can support timely immunizations.
Together, we can ensure that we do everything possible to protect our children and our communities from vaccine preventable diseases. Don’t delay, join the growing list of advocates by signing up today.