March 13, 2019 03:47 pm Scott Wilson – An onslaught of dangerous misinformation, some dubiously advised legislative gatekeepers, lax documentation enforcement -- these are among the factors rendering Americans' protection from many infectious diseases increasingly porous. Measles outbreaks this winter show what happens when public policy fails public health.
But outbreaks don't have to lead to epidemics. Key ways to push back on critical fronts in the fight to properly vaccinate Americans are on the agenda for a free webinar from the AAFP's Center for State Policy that will be held on March 26 at 2 p.m. CDT.
It's a timely topic. Some 130 vaccine-related bills have been introduced in more than 30 states, furthering a recent uptick of laws loosening exemptions from childhood immunizations.
Diane Peterson, associate director for immunization projects at the nonprofit Immunization Action Coalition (IAC), will be among the webinar's speakers. She tells AAFP News that scientific facts and medical authority are not enough to convince some lawmakers that vaccines are vitally important.
"The vice chair of our (state) senate health committee is himself a physician, and he's bought into it," Peterson says of an anti-vaccination politician in Minnesota, where she and the IAC are based. "I had a 45-minute meeting with him, accompanied by a prominent Republican lobbyist who is pro-vaccine, but he (the politician) was just adamant. He said the first rotavirus vaccine led to deaths. But it never did. He had things turned around and said he was concerned about pushing vaccines."
She adds, "Personal and religious exemptions -- nonmedical exemptions -- are being abused. In some states, you basically just check a box on a form. It shouldn't be easier to get your child into school without a vaccine than it is to do it with vaccines."
Oregon, for example, asks parents only to complete an online module to qualify for a vaccination exemption, an approach Peterson calls "about the worst in the country." A bill under consideration there would eliminate nonmedical exemptions for public school students.
California tightened its vaccination exemption law after a 2014 measles outbreak at Disneyland.
"The state had a strong senator who was a pediatrician, and he took the lead," Peterson says, referring to state Sen. Richard Pan, M.D., M.P.H. Pan co-wrote a bill that eliminated personal belief exemptions to public school vaccination requirements; it became law in July 2015.
So does the California AFP.
Passing the bill was "definitely a battle," says Adam Francis, director of government relations for the chapter, which also will participate in the webinar.
"Legislators knew the importance of making this change because California family physicians came to them with personal stories, informing them about patients who were unnecessarily harmed or even died because they were not vaccinated," Francis adds. "Even more compelling were our members' examples of immunocompromised patients who couldn't be vaccinated and were suffering or dying because someone refused to vaccinate themselves or their children."
In addition to Peterson and the California AFP, the webinar will include the Oklahoma AFP. That state has seen recent increases in vaccination exemptions and is now almost two percentage points behind the national average rate for measles, mumps and rubella vaccination.
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