Public health experts and medical professionals crowded into a committee room at the statehouse today, presenting a united front against a bill to allow more Iowans to avoid getting their children vaccinated for preventable diseases.
Currently, families can claim a religious exemption. The bill would extend that to anyone with a personal conviction against vaccines.
Unity Point Health pediatrician Nathan Boonstra told lawmakers the bill would mean lower vaccination rates in Iowa and more instances of disease.
“Some of the most tragic situations I've seen as a pediatrician have been cases where a child suffered or even died as a result of a disease that could have been easily prevented by a vaccine,” Boonstra said.
Boonstra says that includes whooping cough and complications from chicken pox.
The bill cleared a three-member GOP-dominated panel.
Backers say it’s a matter of personal freedom.
“I do not believe in the concept in this context that government should have the right to order parents to immunize their children,” said the bill’s manager Rep. Steven Holt (R-Denison). “I will vote to advance this bill and let the full committee consider it.”
“Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness certainly includes what we're going to stick in our bodies,” added Sen. Dennis Guth who backs a similar bill in the Senate.
From the public, only one person testified in support of the bill.
“There is an autism vaccine link that’s been covered up by the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) for years,” said Lori Harvey who identified herself as an
anti-vaccine activist from Boone.
Critics cite disease outbreaks in California after that state enacted a personal exemption for vaccines.
Deborah Thompson with the Iowa Department of Public Health said vaccination rates went down in states that expanded vaccine exemptions.
She said Iowa has made strides in boosting its vaccination rates, and the bill could set that back.
“We still rank 43rd nationwide,” Thompson said.