Vaccination bill should sting a bit less

Senate passes watered-down effort to bolster immunization rates


For those who were adamantly opposed to a bill that would require parents to be better educated about child vaccinations, the possible final version of the legislation shouldn't hurt a bit.

What began as legislation aimed at increasing vaccination rates in Colorado wound up being a record-keeping access bill, with the state Senate on April 23 instead passing a watered-down version of an immunization awareness bill.

The original version of House Bill 1288 would have required parents of school children to become better educated about the value of immunization before opting their kids out of vaccinations for personal or religious beliefs.

Numerous changes were made before the bill made it to the Senate floor.

Supporters say the bill still creates good policy because it allows parents to see vaccination records at schools and day care centers, to see how many children have received vaccinations for preventable illnesses like measles or whooping cough.

That could be important information to a parent of a child with a weakened immune system. That child may not be able to receive vaccinations and would be particularly susceptible to illnesses carried by other students whose parents opted them out of receiving immunizations.

"This is really a service to medically fragile children," said state Sen. Irene Aguilar, D-Denver, a bill sponsor.

Bill supporters said that by schools being required to have immunization data available to the public, parents will be able to make better decisions as to where they send their kids to school.

"This bill will have an impact on the (immunization) rates and will be able to protect children from vaccine preventable childhood diseases," said Sen. Jeanne Nicholson, D-Black Hawk.

But the bill has fewer teeth than when it was introduced in the House in February.

The original bill would have required parents who want to opt their children out of being vaccinated to first consult with a doctor about the benefits and risks of immunization. It would also have required an opt-out child to watch an online video having to do with immunization benefits and risks.

The original legislation received bipartisan support in the House, passing that chamber on a vote of 42-19.

But after the requirements that were part of the House bill were stripped away by the Senate, Aguilar said she did not have the support to get the original bill through the Senate.

Many Republicans like Sen. Owen Hill of Colorado Springs, still opposed the bill, even after it had been stripped of much of the original language that concerned GOP members.

Hill said that it's not the government's business to dictate to parents that their children should receive vaccinations that are "unscientifically proven."

"I am concerned that we're setting a dangerous precedent here that somehow we know what's best; that somehow we in this room can determine what parents should and shouldn't be doing," Hill said.

The bill passed the Senate by a vote of 19-16, with just one Republican - Sen. Ellen Roberts, R-Durango - voting with all Democrats.

Aguilar assured Republicans that she would not agree to the original requirements making their way back on to the bill, through work of a post-passage conference committee.

Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver, the House bill sponsor, said he needs to speak with Senate members "to see how firm they are on their position" before he decides whether to make changes to the bill in conference committee.

Pabon was not pleased that the bill got gutted in the Senate, saying the legislation was a victim of "misinformation, innuendo and rumor."

"I think it's extremely disappointing when you look at who is left unprotected in the Senate version of the bill - those children with immune compromised diseases who are going into facilities where there are huge numbers of unvaccinated children," Pabon said. "They could be coming down with diseases that we've cured."


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