Legislation aims to raise childhood vaccination rates across Colorado
STEAMBOAT SPRINGS — Headed Tuesday to the Colorado House Appropriations Committee, Colorado Senate Bill 163 has the ultimate goal to raise the vaccination rates of Colorado children to 95% — the herd immunity threshold identified by the Centers for Disease Control to protect the entire community from diseases, like measles and polio.
Based on data from the 2017-18 school year and a state-by-state CDC survey, Colorado ended up with the very lowest rates of kindergarteners vaccinated for MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) at 88.7%.
Kari Ladrow, public health director for Routt County, said that as of 2019, MMR vaccination rates for Routt County children are at 91.56%. She said Colorado also ranks last for kindergarteners and the chicken pox vaccine.
“This legislation offers the opportunity for Routt County Health Department, in coordination with the local health providers and schools in the community, to provide health and vaccination education to parents to improve these rates to protect public health, while preserving parental choice for those families who opt out of vaccinations,” Ladrow said.
Logistically, the bill does several things, explained Michelle Ames, spokeswoman for Colorado Vaccinates, a group supporting the legislation.
It requires parents seeking exemption to have a standard, state-issued form signed by anyone who provides immunizations, or the parent can instead elect to participate in a short educational video.
The bill keeps the option for parents to be exempted for any reason, whether personal belief, religious or medical — but it does distinguish between the types.
“It is important for families to delineate medical from nonmedical exemptions,” according to Ladrow.
Hepatitis B: 92.61%
HIB (Haemophilus influenzae type b): 94.99%
DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis): 85.22%
PCV13 (pneumococcal): 84.7%
Source: Routt County Public Health
A bill that died on the senate floor last year and failed to get the support of Gov. Jared Polis would have eliminated the personal belief exemption.
This time around, Ames said, the bill’s proponents did a better job of engaging all stakeholders and have already gotten the support of Polis.
And the bill, Ames emphasized, does in no way force anyone to vaccinate their child.
Ames acknowledged that if a parent does not want vaccinate their child, there isn’t anything she can say that will in all likelihood change that, and the bill recognizes and respects that.
The bill provides more resources and support for schools and communities toward the 95% goal and requires schools to proactively notify parents of the school’s immunization rates.
Part of the goal is also to make sure the data available is more accurate and more reliable, Ames said. If there is an outbreak of measles in a specific school, for example, students who are not vaccinated can be identified quickly and pulled out for the required 21-day incubation period.
Ames said one frequent concern she heard in opposition to the bill relates to privacy and families who elect not to vaccinate feeling singled out and even persecuted.
However, Ames argues that being able to identify children who aren’t vaccinated protects those children — just as much as it protects the vaccinated children.
“Having an unvaccinated child in school where a measles case is confirmed, almost guarantees that child gets measles,” Ames said.
The bill requires all immunizing health care providers to use the state’s immunization data system.
It does allow, however, parents to opt their child’s data out of the state immunization database.
Better data is an important piece, said Ladrow. For her agency, they “would be able to utilize the data in the event of an outbreak to identify areas particularly vulnerable.”
While Ames acknowledges there are side effects — albeit rare, especially dangerous ones — “The reality is that (vaccinations) are safe and effective.”
Ames also points out the vast majority of Coloradans do vaccinate their children, and support the science, with 84% saying they believe vaccinations should be required for children to attend public school or a child care facility, according to a Keating Research Poll conducted in November 2019.
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