Thursday, March 31, 2011

Vaccine skeptics protest bill requiring doctor's note to opt out

A proposal to make it more difficult for parents to avoid school-entry immunization requirements has raised the ire of opponents, who say the requirement is insulting and violates their parental rights.

Seattle Times health reporter

Worried by outbreaks of contagious diseases such as measles and whooping cough, public-health officials are supporting a proposal to make it more difficult for parents to avoid school-entry immunization requirements.

The measure under consideration has drawn strong support in both houses of the Legislature and faced little opposition until recently, when vaccine-resisting parents mobilized to pack hearings and lobby lawmakers.

The proposal would require parents who seek exemption from current state law to submit proof that a health provider has informed them of the risks and benefits of immunization.

Currently, parents can sign a form themselves to claim religious, philosophical or personal reasons for refusing to immunize their children before enrolling them in school or day care.

Public-health officials say the bill is needed because immunization rates are falling, parents are receiving sketchy information from the Internet and the state has made it too convenient for them to skip immunization.

"Convenience is not a reason to risk our children's health, and countering misinformation requires a conversation with a trusted and informed health-care provider," Dr. Gary Goldbaum, Snohomish Health District health officer, told lawmakers. "This is a matter of protecting our most vulnerable citizens: our children."

But more than 100 protesters who showed up at committee hearings this month weren't buying that.

"This bill implies that I am reckless, irresponsible and uninformed, when in fact that is the complete opposite," bristled Sarah Rowe, a Bainbridge Island mother who attended a Senate committee hearing last week with her 5-year-old daughter, whose neurological disorder was caused by a vaccine, according to Rowe.

Michael Belkin, also from Bainbridge, told the committee that as a statistics-savvy financial analyst, he doesn't want to listen to "some doctor's propaganda."

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