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Colorado House votes to crack down on anti-vaxxers

A new bill would require those seeking an exemption to get educated first


Lindsay Abrams
March 25, 2014 12:05AM (UTC)

In an overwhelming show of support for keeping preventable diseases prevented, the Colorado House voted 42-19 to advance a measure clamping down on vaccine exemptions. If passed (it goes to the Senate Friday), it would still allow parents to keep their kids unvaccinated, but would require first that they're fully informed about the potential consequences of doing so.

Colorado has a low vaccination rate compared to other states; per the CDC, this past school year it was the sixth-highest for unvaccinated kids enrolled in kindergarten. During the 2012-2013 school year, the rate for kindergarteners who received the two-dose MMR vaccine was a terrifying 85.7 percent -- well below the estimated 95 percent needed to provide herd immunity from measles, for example. Currently, Colorado is also one of the easiest places to get an exemption -- all an unvaccinated child requires to enroll in childcare or public school is a parental signature. As a 2013 CDC study revealed, this opens the door to parents skipping vaccines just because they're inconvenient. This new measure would make that decision a lot less casual: While religious and medical exemptions won't be affected, it would require parents who opt not to vaccinate for any other reason to get educated. That means either watching a video, or meeting with a physician, to learn why opting out really isn't a good idea.

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The bill has the unfortunate side effect, unfortunately, of making vaccine opponents feel condescended to. "You can spin it any other way you like, but this basically says, 'Parents of Colorado that choose not to get immunization for their kids, you're too stupid to make this decision on your own,'" Republican House Leader Brian DelGrosso told the Associated Press when explaining why he opposed the bill even though he chose to vaccinate his own children.

An arguably more accurate way to spin it, of course, is to characterize the bill as saying, "Parents of Colorado don't have the right to casually make a decision that imperils the health of everyone's kids." The measure, if passed, would also require schools and childcare centers to disclose their rates of non-vaccinated children; at least then, parents -- especially those of children who aren't vaccinated for legitimate medical reasons -- can avoid unvaccinated pockets, where outbreaks are more likely to occur.

It's unclear, however, whether enforced education will sway any of the ardent anti-vaxxers. "They know exactly what they're doing and they know what the risks are," said Rep. Lori Saine, R-Dacono, who opposed the bill. She echoed a recent study showing that attempts at educating people who fear vaccines can just end up causing them to stick to their position more forcefully. In such cases, it can be argued that the Colorado bill isn't going far enough.

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Lindsay Abrams

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Colorado Measles Vaccinations Vaccine Truther

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