WISCONSIN (SPECTRUM NEWS) - The battle over personal choice and vaccines. Laws have changed in other states, and Wisconsin is looking to follow suit after more parents are now citing personal belief as their reason not to vaccinate.
A bill in the legislature would ban some children from daycare and schools if their parents do not follow state vaccination guidelines. Right now Wisconsin is one of 15 states that still allows exemptions based on personal belief. It's an issue that has some people with different views coming together over their rights as parents.
It's lobby day at the state capitol in Madison. A group of moms from across the state are talking to lawmakers about freedom of choice. In this case their message is taking aim at a vaccine bill.
Members of Wisconsin United for Freedom and the Chiropractic Society of Wisconsin are here to take a stand against a bill that would eliminate one way Wisconsin parents can opt out of vaccinating their children.
Chiropractor, Dr. Wade Anunson will tell you this isn't about vaccines but the possible loss of what he calls a constitutional right. “As a human being you don’t have the right to say ‘no’ because someone’s overriding that decision for you. So as an adult I have a problem with that."
The bill would eliminate the personal conviction waiver in Wisconsin. Meaning parents would not be able to waive immunization requirements for personal reasons if their children are in school or daycare. Religious and medical waivers would still be an option.
Representative Gordon Hintz pointed out the bill is an attempt to be proactive on this issue. He first introduced a version of the bill after the 2015 measles outbreak at Disneyland. It was reintroduced this legislative session. Hintz said, “the reality is we’re going to increase vaccination rates one of two ways. We’re going to pass this legislation, or we’re going to have a measles outbreak.”
Hintz said he has the support of a bi partisan group of lawmakers who feel this is a public health issue not just a parental right. "We just saw how contagious and how vulnerable pockets of society were. It got me looking at Wisconsin's vaccination rates."
That rate for private and public school aged children was 91.9% in the 2018-19 school year. That’s small decrease from the year before where 92.3% of students met the state’s minimum immunization requirement.
But in about the last 20 years there has been an increase in the use of personal conviction waivers. In the 1997-98 school year 1.2% of Wisconsin students claimed the waiver. In 2018-19 it was 4.6%.
Dr. Dirk Steinert is concerned about what he’s seeing across the state. A pediatrician and member of Ascension's Immunization Task Force he points to pockets in Wisconsin with low vaccination rates.
Take the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine. In 2018 the number of kindergartners with at least two doses of MMR was less than 70% in eight counties. According to the Wisconsin Department of Health Services 95% is the goal to reduce the potential for a measles outbreak.
“You’re protecting your own child, but you’re also protecting your neighbor’s child,” Dr. Steinert said. He believes legislation is one tool to help increase vaccination rates but also said it's not the only one. “Education is another tool. We need to think of all tools that we can utilize to educate, support, and understand to get this done."
But mom Dewan Jenkins believes it comes down to making an educated choice. Her children are fully vaccinated, but she did not follow the vaccine schedule when her children were babies. “I stuck to a rule for myself of 2 to 3 vaccines per visit,” Jenkins remembered. “I’d allow them time to rebound from that and then go back to get their other vaccines.”
Under this bill parents would not be allowed to opt out, or delay, a vaccine if their children are in daycare or school. Jenkins is against the bill; she feels it infringes on her rights as a parent. "If we as parents are not choosing to vaccinate our children it’s because we’ve looked into it, and we feel that for our children and for our family the risks are simply too high or there’s not enough information on that vaccine.”
But in Iowa County, where Jenkins lives, the county board of supervisors recently passed a resolution requesting the legislature end the use of personal conviction waivers. Other counties across the state report adopting similar resolutions in 2019.
Representative Hintz also introduced several other vaccine related bills this session. One would allow dentists to vaccinate. He's also proposing letting minor children, starting at the age of 16, get vaccinated without their parents' consent.
What do you think about the legislation to end personal conviction waivers in Wisconsin? Go to the Spectrum News 1 Facebook page and take the poll.