Vaccine bill injects drama into Capitol hearing

Vaccine bill injects drama into Capitol hearing

April 18, 2012

By Katy Grimes

Debate over a vaccine bill injected drama into a hearing of the Assembly Health Committee in the California Legislature Tuesday. Legislators ignored parental concerns. And the Capitol sergeants brutalized parents holding infants.

What should have been a hearing addressing parental concerns in a democracy turned into Lobby Day for the California Medical Association and hundreds of public health doctors, medical school students and other medical practitioners who flooded the hearing room in support of AB 2109 by Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, himself a medical doctor.

The unspeakable issue at the root of Pan’s bill is the influx of children from other countries into California’s public schools, who bring with them new strains of measles, mumps, chicken pox and flu bugs, among other communicable diseases. Children who have recently traveled out of the country also bring home infectious diseases.

It is not politically correct to address that problem. Instead the Legislature is proposing that everyone get vaccinated.

It’s no different that a teacher punishing the entire class because of one bad kid. The inability to single out the issue is the problem.

Tense Hearing

The Health Committee chairman, Assemblyman Bill Monning, D-Carmel, appeared agitated from the outset of the hearing. He admonished the gathered audience of mostly parents several times before the the hearing even started.

Dean Blumberg, an associate professor for U.C. Davis specializing in infectious diseases, testified in support of Pan’s bill. Blumberg said that, even with the many life-saving vaccinations available, he still sees children who have not been vaccinated. The children end up sick, with preventable illnesses.

And for that reason, Blumberg said California needs to maintain very high school immunization rates. He added that Pan’s bill does not infringe on parents’ rights to choose to vaccinate, or not.

Doctors Show Support for AB 2109

All of the public health players were at the hearing and testified in support of AB 2109: The California Medical Association, the California Pharmacy Association, the Association of Physician Assistants, the California State Employees Association, the County Health Executive Association, as well as the doctors and dentists’ unions.

Doctors and medical students lined up to show support for the bill, and each assured the committee that they would sign a waiver form for parents opting out of vaccinations.

Vehement Opposition to AB 2109

Dawn Winkler testified in opposition to AB 2109, and said that children get more than 50 vaccinations. Winkler, the California State co-director of the National Vaccine Information Center, and executive director of Health Advocacy in the Public Interest, said the bill was not about parents receiving more accurate information about vaccinations. “They already have that available,” Winkler said. “This is about parents’ rights, under the law. Why on earth should parents have to obtain more information about vaccinations and opt-out permission? This will interfere with the right to free education and the right to religious freedom. This bill poses a threat to freedom.”

Hundreds of parents testified that they have been “fired” by their childrens’ pediatricians for refusing vaccinations. “I’ve been bullied by my pediatrician, harassed, and kicked out,” one woman explained. Many others relayed similar stories.

Bob Sears, a private practice pediatrician and 14-year member of the American Association of Pediatricians, said he believes in providing vaccinations, but expressed concern over evidence that many doctors will not sign the waiver for parents to opt-out of vaccinations. “A study of over 1,000 pediatricians found that 39 percent of the American Association of Pediatricians said they will kick parents out if vaccinations are refused,” Sears said.

The bill’s sponsors, The American Academy of Pediatrics, the California Medical Association and the Health Officers Association of California, said that the continued increase in personal belief exemptions and resultant decreases in community immunization rates “could have a significant impact on public safety and because PBEs are relatively easy to obtain,” and recommend strong support for AB 2109.

“How many kids won’t be able to sign up for school?” Sears asked. “Free choice is not having to get a doctor to sign off on a free choice.”

Sears said that the  Centers for Disease Control admits that as many as 30,000 adverse reactions to vaccinations are reported every year. And between 3,000 and 4,500 severe vaccine reactions, up to and including death, occur every year in the United States. Some doctors say that the numbers of severe reactions to vaccinations are much higher than the CDC’s numbers.

Parents Oppose AB 2109

Testifying in opposition to AB 2109, hundreds of chiropracters, parents, medical doctors and students lined up and shared why they oppose the bill.

“Two of my three children are vaccination-injured,”  one mother said. Parent after parent testified about vaccine-injured children, and why they opted not to vaccinate the rest of their kids. Others reported that they had been harassed, bullied and kicked out of numerous pediatricians’ offices for refusing vaccinations for their children.

One physician said that children in foreign countries are healthier than American children because they don’t get the 50 vaccinations American children get.

Parents testified that they were intelligent and educated enough to make the decision to vaccinate or not. “I am a Carnegie Mellon graduate. My son got the mandatory Hepatitus B cavvination and got very sick,” a mother testified.

“I am a member of MENSA,  have a bachelors degree and am smart enough to make the choice for my family,” another mother testified.

An attorney testified that she represents parents over privacy and HIPPA rights. The HIPAA Privacy Rule provides federal protections for personal health information held by doctor’s offices, and gives patients an array of rights with how that information is used.

Committee Questions AB 2109

Assemblyman Dan Logue, R-Linda, asked what will happen to school-aged children if parents can’t get a doctor to sign off on the vaccination opt-out waiver. Pan said that there are 150,000 medical practitioners in the state. “We will get somebody to sign the form,” Pan said.

But Sears disagreed. “The biggest issue is: Can you find a doctor to sign the form?”

Logue pressed for an answer. “I asked what happens if no one signs the form?”

“Children can’t go to school,” Winkler said.

Logue asked if parents will be billed for an office visit if the physician will not sign the waiver for parents who choose not to vaccinate.

Pan tried to convey that some of the visits to doctors are considered well-care, and under some insurance, parents will not be billed. “We want these kids to go to school,” Pan said.

“But will the insurance company charge them?” Logue asked. He never received an answer.

“How do we know parents lack information?” Assemblyman Allan Mansoor, R-Costa Mesa, asked. “How do we know that they aren’t already informed?”

“Some parents are, but many others are uncertain,” Pan said. “Outbreaks are possible if people have been traveling…. It’s about the other children at school. They depend on the rest of us to get vaccinated,” Pan said.

But that was as far as Dr. Pan went, despite the elephant in the room.

Parental Rights v. Public Health

Most parents were at the hearing concerned about injuries and illnesses from vaccinations. And many of the parents present had children who had been vaccine-injured, including autistic children. There is a growing belief that the dramatic rise in autism is directly related to the increase in childhood vaccinations.

But Monning would not allow anyone to discuss this angle. Only Assemblyman Brian Nestande, R-Palm Desert, managed to ask a question about the correlation between vaccinations and autism, and Monning told him to wrap it up quickly. “The bill does not mandate immunization, just counseling of parents,” Monning said.

Pan interjected that there are recent studies showing a link between obesity and autism, “but the bill is not about that.”

Sears said that the real reason there are illness outbreaks is that many vaccinations wear off quickly. “The point is not because of unvaccinated children. The recent Pertussis whooping cough outbreak was caused by the vaccination wearing off. It was found to be only 41 percent effective,” Sears said.

Sears said that he is not against vaccinations, and administers many to his patients. “Not all vaccinations work well, and you can’t blame the unvaccinated children,” Dr. Sears added. “The issue I am against is taking away the choice of parents.”

Blumberg told the committee that it was apparent the parents present at the hearing were educated and informed, and were not the parents being targeted by the bill.

Bill Passed Out of the Committee

AB 2109 passed the committee, 10-4.According to Winkler, the hearing Tuesday was a failure of the political system. Winkler found that Monning’s bias prevented all information from being discussed. Winkler said that, in the 15 years she has been testifying at hearings, she has never had so little time to speak, nor been cut off so many times.

And it was apparent that the Capitol sergeants-at arms had been instructed to aggressively manage the crowd.

In years of attending hearings, I’ve never seen strong-arming by Capitol sergeants the way I witnessed yesterday. The Occupy protestors were not man-handled the way the parents were yesterday.

A room full of women holding babies is hardly a threat to legislators. But a room full of educated health advocates and parents apparently is.

“What’s next if this bill passes?” asked Winkler. “Take the word ‘vaccine’ out of the subject. What’s next?”

See the related story, ‘Vaccine bill gouges parental rights.’

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