Citing parental freedom, Arizona lawmakers move ahead with anti-vaccine bills

By Beth Mole

 A single dose of MMR (for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) at Kaiser Permanente East Medical offices in Denver.
Enlarge / A single dose of MMR (for Measles, Mumps, and Rubella) at Kaiser Permanente East Medical offices in Denver.

Lawmakers in Arizona are moving forward with three bills that will make it easier for parents to opt out of getting life-saving vaccinations for their children—and may even encourage them to do so, according to a report in The Arizona Republic.

The brazen legislative move comes as the country grapples with six outbreaks of measles, an extremely contagious, vaccine-preventable disease that can be disabling and even fatal to young children. One of those outbreaks is occurring in Washington state's Clark County, where rampant anti-vaccine views and similarly lax vaccination laws fueled the spread of disease. Since the start of the year, officials have tallied 65 cases, mostly in children under the age of 10 (47 of the 65 cases) and nearly all unvaccinated (57 cases of the 65 cases, with six others cases unverified, and two cases with only one out of the recommended two vaccine doses).

Hoping to prevent future outbreaks, Washington state lawmakers are now advancing legislation that would eliminate vaccination exemptions on personal and philosophical grounds. But Arizona lawmakers seem to have taken no heed of the efforts of their Washington counterparts, even as public health experts condemned Arizona's proposed legislation.

"Do we want the next outbreak news story to be in Arizona?" Dr. Steven Brown, a family physician in central Phoenix, asked lawmakers. "As a family physician who cares for the health of our citizens and especially our children, I am disheartened and frightened that this is up for debate... Nobody is here to tell the stories of people who are alive and not disabled by vaccine-preventable illness," he added, according to the Republic.

Disease-spreading freedom

In a 5-4 vote, Arizona's House Health and Human Services Committee advanced three anti-vaccine bills late last week. One of the bills, HB 2470, would expand access to both religious and personal belief vaccine exemptions among preschool and grade school children. It would also eliminate the requirement for parents to fill out a state authorization form for those exemptions.

The other two bills, HB 2471 and HB 2472, would require that parents receive a booklet about vaccine risks prior to vaccinating their children and require doctors to offer blood tests that determine if a child is already immune to a vaccine-preventable disease prior to vaccinating.

Committee chair Rep. Nancy Barto (R-Phoenix) sponsored all three bills. She stated that it's "every parent's individual right to decide the vaccine's place in the child's life." She also falsely claimed that there was credible data to recommend against wide-scale vaccination. "We need to look at the data, look at the science, and recognize that there's research on both sides."

Voluminous, high-quality, and reputable scientific studies unanimously conclude that the benefits of vaccinating far outweigh the risks.

Arizona is already one of 17 states in the country that allows personal-belief exemptions for vaccination. Last week, Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Scott Gottlieb warned that states' lax laws may prompt federal action. If "certain states continue down the path that they're on, I think they're going to force the hand of the federal health agencies," he told CNN.