DENVER (CBS4)– For the fourth time in six years, state lawmakers will take up a bill aimed at improving Colorado’s vaccination rate – one of the lowest in the country. And this year, it has a good chance of becoming law.
Danielle Gauthier knows first-hand the stakes. Her baby has a brain injury which makes her susceptible to infections.
“If Juniper gets measles, get pneumonia or encephalitis, it’s a death sentence,” said Gauthier.
Gauthier and Juniper appeared via the internet at a news conference announcing the legislation.
“Right now where we’re at in Colorado, is a dangerous place to be,” said Rep. Kyle Mullica.
Mullica and Senators Julie Gonzales and Kevin Priola are sponsors of the bill that would require parents who want to opt their school-aged kids out of vaccines to take an online education course created by the Colorado Department of Health and Environment, or get an exemption form signed by a doctor or physicians’ assistant. It also requires each school to notify parents of its vaccination rate.
“Right now it’s far easier for a parent to sign a vaccine exemption than it is to take the time and effort to get their kid vaccinated,” said Gonzales, a Democrat representing Denver. “The time for us to act is now.”
This year, it appears Gov. Jared Polis won’t stand in the way. He said the bill, as written, honors the rights of parents while boosting immunization rates.
Rep. Lori Saine disagrees, “What we heard from parents was loud and clear. They don’t need to go somewhere to affirming their parenting.”
Saine, a Republican representing Northern Colorado, has introduced one of two bills championing the rights of those who don’t vaccinate. Her bill would allow for civil suits against employers who use a person’s immunization status against them.
A bill by Rep. Dave Williams, a Republican representing El Paso County, would create the “Vaccine Consumer Protection Act.” It would require patients be informed of adverse vaccine reactions and prohibit certain actions against people who delay or decline vaccinations.
Mullica, an emergency room nurse and Democrat representing Adams County, said he’s not taking away parents’ choice not to vaccinate. But he says some of parents are opting their kids out of vaccines simply because it’s easier than getting the shots.
“I lose sleep at night wondering if there will be an outbreak, wondering if there’s a child in Colorado that could intentionally be harmed by us not taking action down here,” said Mullica.
Colorado is one of a handful of states that allows personal exemptions as well medical and religious exemptions.
The state keeps a database of people who don’t vaccinate in the event of an outbreak. Under the new bill, it would still be optional to register.