To: David Lifferth,
Subject: HB221 Request
Date: Mon Feb 29 06:28:24 MST 2016
Dear Representative Lifferth:
From what I understand, HB221 should be presented and voted on either Monday or Tuesday this week. I would ask that you vote in favor of this bill.
In the way of a little background, my oldest son, Michael, had a liver transplant when he was a baby. He was in the hospital almost the entire first 2 years of his life, just trying to survive. His immune system was almost non-existent and while I desperately wanted to protect him against deadly diseases with immunizations, he could not receive any immunizations until he was about 3 years old (when he was stable and on a lower amount of immune suppression medications). Instead of having him immunized, I was forced to rely on “herd immunity,” a term used to describe having an adequate number of people in the community immunized. If enough people are immunized, infants and vulnerable children (like my son) can benefit from some protection against immunization-preventable diseases.
Unfortunately, herd immunity in our community was lacking at the time. As a result, Michael was infected with a myriad of diseases: RSV, rotavirus, chicken-pox, and whooping cough. Each of these diseases are terrible; however, when Michael caught them he was already immune compromised. As a result, he almost died with each of these diseases. To be frank, the first few years of his life were a living hell for our young family. It’s a dark time in my life that I rarely speak of with others because it drums up all sorts of terrible memories.
I’m sharing it with you with the hope that you will consider voting for HB221. As you probably already know, HB221 does NOT do away with immunization exemptions. Parents would still retain their “right” to refuse immunizations. The bill, however, would require immunization education for parents exempting their children from immunizations; 2) an exemption renewal (one for kindergarten, one for 7th grade, and one for 10th grade); and 3) allows a 21 day grace period so unimmunized children can go ahead and start school, thus giving their parents extra time to update immunizations, find immunization records, or complete the immunization education and file the exemption with the local health department.
The purpose of the bill is to hopefully raise immunization rates in Utah. I can certainly appreciate the argument of the opposition and completely understand that the topic of immunizations seems to be quite polarized and emotionally charged. While some parents exempt immunizations because of their personal research on the topic, this isn’t the case for a fair share of immunization exemptions. I am a nurse practitioner and used to be a school nurse in Alpine and Provo school districts. As someone on the “front lines” so-to-speak of immunization education, I can tell you that in my experience, some parents just procrastinate with immunizations. Before they know it, school is starting and they just haven’t had the time yet to get their children immunized. For the procrastinating parent, it is (unfortunately) more convenient to file an immunization exemption than it is for them to have the child’s immunizations updated. Because state law says the child cannot start school without proof of immunizations or proof of an exemption, these parents will often file the exemption so it doesn’t delay their child from going to school. That’s the group that HB221 can make a difference in.
I’ve spent the last 11 years conducting research in Utah regarding the reasons why parents exempt immunizations and have published many articles that report these findings in several peer-reviewed and professional journals. What’s really interesting to me is that some parents feel “bullied” when they go to the local health department to file an immunization exemption. Some health departments try to provide immunization education to the parent seeking an exemption and others are too busy. It’s totally possible that a public health nurse can have a “bad” day and provide the education with a frustrated tone. After all, we’re all human, right? The beauty of HB221 is that it takes the “education” out of the local health department and standardizes it. That way you don’t have to worry about a nurse having a bad day and making some parents feel bad about claiming an immunization exemption. The standardized online education would carefully control the tone and allow exempting parents to present their education certificate to the health department WITHOUT having to go through any additional education. Also, it relieves some of the burden that falls to the local health department right now.
I have been a part of this bill from its inception and am a part of the workgroup that will develop the short, 15-20 minute online education. The purpose of the education module is not to be punitive or “push immunizations” on parents or “guilt” parents. That approach doesn’t work. Instead, it would be a measured approach that would review what claiming an immunization exemption means, including the 21 day exclusion rule for unimmunized children during a disease outbreak. It would also include info about where to obtain current disease outbreak information in Utah. Additionally, it would outline “herd immunity,” what that means, and where we’re at in Utah.
As a previous public health employee and a member of several healthcare organizations in Utah I promise the intent is not to punish parents. It’s just to help them understand how their decision intertwines with public health and that there are exclusion requirements during a disease outbreak. I honestly feel as though this is a fair trade-off. That way, parents maintain their right to exempt their children from immunizations and the parents of vulnerable children (like me) feel as though people are looking out for the health of their children too.
I plan on being at the Capitol on Monday and Tuesday. Please let me know if I can answer any concerns you may have regarding the bill. I honestly believe HB221 is a nice compromise between all stakeholders.
With respect and appreciation for all you do,
1061 Vista Ridge Drive
Santaquin, UT 84655