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House Committee passes bill aimed at increasing childhood immunization rates in Colorado

HB19-1312 would create a more formalized process for parents to apply for exemptions which lawmakers hope will increase vaccination rates.

DENVER — The House Health and Insurance Committee approved HB19-1312 early Tuesday morning after a very long hearing that began Monday afternoon.

It would require the state health department to create a standardized and state-issued form and submission process for parents who claim a medical or religious exemption to vaccinations.

State representatives said more than 500 people signed up to testify Monday, regarding the bill that’s aimed at making it harder for parents to opt out of immunizing their kids.

While the proposed legislation would not change the exemptions themselves, the bill’s sponsors hope the more formalized process would push more parents to immunize their children.

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According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the vaccination rates for Colorado kindergarteners ranks 49th out of 49 states that report data. During the 2017-2018 school year, the CDC says 88.7 percent of Colorado kindergarteners received the MMR vaccine (for measles, mumps and rubella) compared to the national median of 94.3 percent.

Colorado rates were also lower than other states for the DTap and Varicella vaccines.

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According to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE), the state already requires students to be vaccinated against certain diseases unless they have a medical, religious or personal belief exemption on file. 

CDPHE says medical exemptions currently require a signature from a medical doctor, doctor of osteopathic medicine, advance practice nurse or delegated physician’s assistant on a state-issued form. They only need to be submitted once, unless the student’s information or school changes.

Currently, religious and personal belief exemptions for students in kindergarten and older require a statement of exemption annually from the child’s parent or guardian, according to CDPHE. The state says parents can use a state-issued form, or file their own statement of exemption with the school.

9NEWS took a closer look at the bill proposal last week.

HB19-1312 is a piece of bipartisan legislation. Sponsors also include Senator Julie Gonzales (D-Denver) and Senator Kevin Priola (R-Adams County).

"I want it to be known this bill is about one thing and one thing only. That’s making sure that our students are safe," Rep. Mullica said.

A number of doctors and researchers testified in favor of the bill Monday night.

"I am a scientist who studies the immune system," said Aimee Bernard, a PhD immunologist. "And I understand the science behind vaccines. I know that vaccines are safe and effective and work with our immune system, to keep us protected and to build an immune army to fight infection."

"As a scientist, I can testify 100 percent that vaccines are safe," said Dr. Stephanie James, who identified herself as a scientist and pro-vaccine parent. "And they work, and they work in concert with our immune system to confer protection against disease."

Opponents to the bill who testified at the Capitol included a group of mothers, who say their children have complex medical conditions and that they want a choice about their immunization decisions.

"I love my boys more than I could put into words," said a woman named Margaret. "They are the reason I breathe. This bill is not supporting and empowering us parents who know what's best for our children. It’s a slap in the face."

 Other worried about discrimination and data sharing.

"This bill is not just as simple as 'you just have to file your exemptions with health department," said another opponent, named Missy. "You are stripping away federal rights. This bill is an attempt at a huge data grab at the expense of students and family privacy."

The bill passed by a vote of 7-4 and will head to the House floor.

You can read the full text of the bill here: leg.colorado.gov/bills/hb19-1312

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