Lawmakers throughout the country have proposed nearly a hundred bills regarding child vaccination this year, furthering the nationwide debate regarding the heated issue.
In Utah, Rep. Carol Spackman-Moss, D-Salt Lake City, is expected to continue working throughout the summer on a bill which would mandate education for parents of Utah’s roughly 87,000 unimmunized children.
“The more kids that aren’t immunized, the greater the risk of an outbreak,” Spackman-Moss said.
Under the bill, parents would be required to complete a 20-minute online course explaining how to protect their unvaccinated children during an outbreak before receiving a vaccine exemption form.
Spackman-Moss sponsored the bill in Utah’s most recent legislative session, but it died on the Senate floor due to mounting opposition to its 10th substitution.
According to the Utah Statutory code, students can become exempt from immunizations for any medical, religious or personal reasons. Each of these exemption categories corresponds with a Utah Department of Health Exemption Form, which must be filled out and given to the child’s school.
Similar state codes are found across the nation. Such inclusive codes make immunization exemptions an increasingly popular option.
Springville’s Rebecca Morgan, a mother of three children, doesn’t oppose Spackman-Moss’ bill although she chooses to not vaccinate her children
“I feel like I have done research and know how I feel, so to watch a 20-minute video I wouldn’t have a problem with at all,” she said.
Morgan was immunized as a child and said she experienced strong, negative reactions to the vaccines. She said if she were to vaccinate her family, she would wait until her kids were much older with stronger immune systems.
“How can we generalize something that doesn’t go smoothly for everyone?” Morgan said. “It’s my right as a citizen to be able to choose what I feel is best for my children and my family.”
Sen. Brian Shiozawa, R-Cottonwood Heights, sponsored HB221 on the Senate floor. Shiozawa acknowledged parents’ concerns about the safety of vaccines, but as former president of the Utah Medical Association, said the bill would have greatly benefited the state.
“It is rare for a vaccine to do any harm at all,” Shiozawa said to fellow legislators. “I think the risks were clearly outweighed by the benefits.”
A significant benefit is herd immunity throughout the state. Herd immunity occurs when a critical portion of a community is immunized against a contagious disease, which results in members of the community being protected against that disease because there is little opportunity for an outbreak. This type of immunity even protects those who are medically unable to receive vaccinations.
Utah released a report examining immunization rates of Utah’s individual schools and districts for the 2014-15 school year. According to the report, herd immunity is being lost in some counties, and 23 percent of Utah schools have fallen below the herd immunity threshold of 92 percent for measles.
Jeffery Eason, an epidemiologist for the Utah Department of Health, said the nationwide measles outbreak that stemmed from Disneyland in December 2014 pushed the limits of the state’s wavering herd immunity.
The Utah Department of Health was forced to keep 259 people quarantined after two Utah residents returned from Disneyland with the disease. These individuals had daily check-ins from the Department of Health and were not allowed to leave their homes or have any unvaccinated visitors.
Two months and $115,000 later, the Health Department contained the outbreak and declared it over on February 25, 2015.
While measles outbreaks are still rare in the United States, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention showed close to 115,000 children died from the disease worldwide the year following the Disneyland epidemic.
“We hadn’t had an issue with measles in forever, but recently the vaccination rates in Beverly Hills have been on par with third world countries,” said Madeline Gouchenour, a BYU public health student who specializes in epidemiology.
Gouchenour said the decision to vaccinate children affects more than just your immediate family.
“If I have kids, I don’t want to send them somewhere where they could get sick because other people didn’t vaccinate their children,” she said.