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Lawmakers propose competing changes to vaccination exemptions

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DES MOINES — While the state of Washington has declared an emergency because of a measles outbreak, Iowa legislators are considering one proposal that would remove a religious exemption to vaccination and another that would create a new exemption.

At least five proposals dealing with immunizations have been introduced this year, some not for the first time. One, Senate File 239 will receive a Human Resources subcommittee hearing at noon today in Room 315.

That bill, from Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, proposes health care professionals who sign a medical exemption must state that the immunizations required could, rather than would, be injurious to the health and well-being of the applicant or a family members.

“Almost no doctor is willing to say 100 percent that it would cause injury,” he said Monday. Guth believes “vaccine injury,” such as neurological conditions, can result from immunizations.

His bill also amends the existing religious exemption and creates a philosophical exemption allowing people to opt out if immunization conflict with the “conscientiously held beliefs” of the applicant or the applicant’s parents.

“That could exempt everyone,” said Rep. Mary Mascher, D-Iowa City.

She has proposed House File 206, which would eliminate the religious exemption altogether for children entering public school and licensed child care.

Mascher makes clear she’s not advocating for the elimination of a religious exemption, but only to require anyone entering a public school or day care to show proof of exemptions. People who do not want to immunize their children can enroll them in a private school — assuming that school doesn’t require immunizations, home school their children or enroll them in online programs.

She’s concerned children who are not immunized put classmates in jeopardy.

“We get complacent,” Mascher said, “and that can put everyone at risk. The more who opt out, the more we are vulnerable.”

In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee declared a state of emergency after health care officials confirmed more than 50 cases of measles.

Although some people see that as proof of the need for vaccinations, Guth said “other people do not.”

The concern in Washington is that while the nonmedical exemption rate for kindergartners was 2 percent nationwide in the 2017-18 school year, it was double that in Washington, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

In Clarke County, where the majority of the cases of the viral disease were located, the exemption rate was 6.7 percent, the state Department of Public Health reported.

Seventeen states allow some type of philosophical exemption for the vaccine, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

Other proposals from legislators would require medical professionals to make the recipient of a vaccination — or their parents — aware of the potential risks and benefits. Another, referred to as “right of refusal” legislation, would prohibit health care providers from their requiring employees to maintain their vaccinations.

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Statehouse reporter for The Courier

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