State Legislatures Across the US Are Chipping Away at Vaccine Requirements

Kansas showed strong bipartisan support for vaccinations as a tool to support a strong public health system.

But bills with language expanding religious exemptionsThe state Senate passed childhood vaccine requirements in March. Now, the House will face them when the legislature reconvenes April 25,

They are among the top ten. 520 vaccine-related billsAccording to data from the, January 1, 2001 was the date that legislation was introduced in all statehouses across the nation. National Conference of State Legislatures. These bills: 66Particularly, they relate to 25 states’ requirements for childhood vaccines.

Missouri legislators, for instance, are looking into a measurePrivate school students are exempted from vaccine requirements Louisiana law allows private school students to be exempt from vaccine requirements. bill in the HouseIt would prohibit the use of vaccinations at school events and on school property.

Although less than 10% will likely gain traction, the volume and intensity of attempts to repeal vaccine requirements is alarming. Rekha LakshmananDirector of advocacy and public policies at the Immunization Partnership, a vaccine education organization.

“Those are all chipping away at one of the end goals for anti-vaccine activists, which is completely doing away with school requirements,” said Lakshmanan. “That’s what people need to be paying very close attention to.”

Each state requires specific childhood vaccinations against measles, polio and measles. However, exemptions can vary. All states allow exemptions for people with medical issues, 44 allow religious exemptions, and fifteen allow philosophical exemptions. according to 2021 dataSource: National Conference of State Legislatures.

Vaccinations are central to public health efforts at disease control and are foundational to the country’s social and economic system, said Brian CastrucciThe CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation, a public-health advocacy organization.

“Politicians are poking holes in our public safety net,” Castrucci said of the onslaught of anti-vaccine legislation. “Vaccines, in and of themselves, are not medicine. It’s all of us collectively protecting each other.”

Anti-vaccine activists have been around as long as vaccines. It is not new to have legislation to limit the requirements for vaccination against diseases like measles and polio. Public health experts say that the movement gained momentum during the coronavirus pandemic. This has boosted the reach of prominent anti-vaccine activists.

“If you had told me that a pandemic — and what I would consider a miraculous vaccine for that disease — would trigger an anti-vax surge, I would never have believed it,” said Tracy RussellExecutive director of Nurture KC, which works to improve children’s and family health in the Kansas City area of Missouri and Kansas. “But that’s exactly what happened.”

One pending Kansas billIt would require that exemption requests for vaccines be accepted without scrutiny if they are based on religious or personal beliefs. Currently, the state does not allow religious exemption requests to be accepted by school districts or day care centers.

State Sen. Mark SteffenStands behind amendments he pushed nullifying Kansas’ childhood vaccine requirements. The Republican, who said he is “not an anti-vaxxer in any shape or form,” lamented mandates he said were a vestige of a “kinder, gentler time” and suggested that individual rights supersede mandates designed to protect public health.

Steffen, an anesthesiologist, said that he is under investigationThe Kansas Board of Healing Arts, which prescribed ivermectin for covid patients, stated that suggestions of a resurgence of vaccine preventable diseases could occur if vaccinations fall. This fearmongering was done by people who have been paid by the pharmaceutical industry.

But Andy Marso, a Kansas vaccine advocate and founder of a Facebook page to organize pro-vaccine Kansans, called such assertions insulting and said he doesn’t take any money from drug companies. In 2004, he contracted meningitis B before vaccines were available. He was in a coma three weeks and had to have parts of his four limbs amputated.

“For me, this has been part of what helped me move on from that trauma,” Marso said. “I have a story that people need to know about.”

Russell stated that legislative efforts to nullify requirements fly in the face widespread public support of vaccines and mandates, both nationally and in Kansas. According to Russell, more Kansas voters support vaccination requirements and believe wellness vaccines to be safe. a surveyThis year’s survey was conducted for Nurture KC. According to the survey, Kansas voters support religious exemptions in overwhelming numbers, but most support tightening existing exemptions.

Before the pandemic, measles outbreaks were common. Kansas, MinnesotaWashington, and other statesAs well as outbreaks pertussis, reinforced the idea that high vaccination rates are necessary to prevent disease spread. And mandates helped to create the system for public health authorities making vaccines widely available. Erica DeWaldThe spokesperson for Vaccinate Your Family, an advocacy organisation.

“Lost in what has become a political conversation around requirements is the danger of these vaccine-preventable diseases,” said DeWald. “All it takes is one case.”

Previously, antivaccine activists relied upon long-since-debunked narratives claiming vaccines cause autism. Renée DiResta, Research Manager at the Stanford Internet Observatory, which studies cyber policies as well as how people use the Internet. But in the years leading up to the pandemic, the movement began to shift its focus to align more with the populist ideology of “individual freedoms” put forward by Second Amendment advocates and the tea party.

Donald Trump was openly skeptical about vaccines long before he became President. But that was when the former-president was said to be considering naming Robert F. Kennedy Jr., a well-known anti-vaccine activist, to “investigate” vaccine safety that the movement found its footing, said Timothy Callaghan, assistant professor in the health policy and management department at Texas A&M University. The embrace of anti-vaccine messaging by prominent politicians — whether because they are “true believers” or just see it as political necessity — has “lent legitimacy that the movement lacked before,” Callaghan added.

Vaccine advocates should be concerned about the similarity of bills from one state to another. This suggests that there is a coordinated effort to eliminate vaccine requirements and public infrastructure.

“Because the anti-vax movement is becoming aligned with the far right, I think those information-sharing channels are becoming more sophisticated,” said Northe SaundersThe executive director of the SAFE Communities Coalition, a pro-vaccine organization. “Their ability to attract far-right politicians who see vaccines as a cause has grown. That gets them attention, if not votes.”

Kansas state Rep. stated that not all Republicans are in agreement with anti-vaccine activists. John EpleeHe is a Republican and a family physician. He stated that he voted against certain covid-related restrictions like a statewide mandate for masks because he believed it might help to defuse pandemic tensions. He supports all vaccines, even covid shots.

The Kansas legislature was able to agree on one bill. Language that targeted vaccines under the auspices parent rights was eventually removed before it was approved. Some observers are cautiously optimistic the House won’t pass the other bills as written.

While Eplee hopes the “passions” inflamed by covid die down with distance from the early days of the pandemic, he’s concerned that voters have forgotten the damage done by vaccine-controllable diseases, making them susceptible to disinformation from determined anti-vaccine activists and the politicians among their ranks.

“I hate to see human nature play out like that,” said Eplee. “But if people are vocal enough and loud enough, they can swing enough votes to change the world in a not-so-good way for public health and vaccinations.”

KHN (Kaiser Health News)National newsroom that produces detailed journalism about health issues. Together with Policy Analysis and Polling KHN One of the three main operating programs at KFF(Kaiser Family Foundation). KFF is an endowed, nonprofit organization that provides information on health issues for the nation.

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