PERRY: You betcha — Polis takes a risky gamble by refusing to end dangerous school vaccine exemptions


Looks like I was wrong.

I never considered the coolly pragmatic Colorado Gov. Jared Polis as much of a gambling man, but it looks like he is.

In the high-stakes game of vaccination and plagues of measles, rubella, mumps and more, Polis is apparently willing to bet that Colorado won’t be hit that hard with a plague that is guaranteed to happen.

Polis has dug in on his position that the state shouldn’t force parents to inoculate their children against childhood diseases. At a news conference Thursday, Polis made clear he won’t force vaccination even if it means thousands of children could be sickened. He won’t close the so-called “exemption” loophole in state law even though treating preventable diseases costs tens of millions of dollars on treatment health care. Even if it means some children will be hospitalized. Some could even die.

It’s surprising to me, and I think a lot of people, that he’s taken this stance, usually reserved for the conspiracy theory tribe who get their news from Fox and Friends. It’s surprising because Polis is not himself an anti-vaxer. His kids all have their shots.

And I honestly understand and appreciate how passionately he protests the idea of forcing parents to perform any kind of medical procedure on their children, even if it’s as harmless and important as childhood disease inoculation.

That’s my problem with Polis’ take on this. No one is forcing anyone to vaccinate their children if they don’t want to.

The law, and it’s an old law, is clear. Parents who send their children to public schools must vaccinate their children, as a way of protecting their own health, and millions of others.

Anti-vaxer parents are welcome to keep their children at home and at-risk for succumbing to potentially deadly diseases because they’ve bought into repeatedly debunked hoax stories about the danger of vaccine.

Or, if they want, parents can create their own special charter school, just for vaccine-free children. I can imagine the uniform would include stylish aluminum foil caps, at least for the parents. And I can imagine some seriously pricey student fees will needed to pay for fabulously expensive school insurance policies. Insurance at these schools will cost a fortune and be needed to pay for inevitable liability lawsuits when the first plague of rubella rages through the school.

I’m totally behind much of what Polis did with the executive order he signed, which followed the veto threat he issued last month.

Polis said he’d kill a bill that would require that anti-vaxer parents had only to fill out and deliver a form if they wanted to skirt the law. Even that was too much of an imposition on parents eager to risk the lives of other children so sick or disabled that they can’t take vaccines.

With so much news from across the nation about preventable-disease outbreaks, it’s mind boggling that a state and a governor as progressive as Colorado would be mired in a controversy like this.

I believe Polis really does want to boost the number of vaccinated kids to a level that would protect the state from plague. And there’s no arguing that all healthcare in rural parts of Colorado is difficult to come by, which is one reason Polis says statewide inoculation numbers are so low. He’s directing what resources he can at making vaccines cheaper and more available to parents who want them.

But I’ve seen no evidence showing that’s the biggest part of the problem in Colorado and everywhere else that’s already suffering from low-vaccination rates.

I’m holding out that the vast number of un-vaccinated children haven’t been inoculated because their parents decisively are keeping it from happening. I’m hoping I and many others have to admit we were wrong about the how responsible anti-vaxers are in creating a potential crisis in Colorado.

Almost minutes after Polis announced his plans to push for education and availability as a way to increase vaccine rates in Colorado, anti-vaxers were on the case.

On a Facebook page catering to Colorado anti-vaxers — where members regularly recommend pediatricians who don’t give so much pushback to irresponsible parents — one participant pointed out with glee that Polis’ executive order wouldn’t force them to do anything differently.

“Friends. Please do not worry. The (executive order) really changes nothing for you. (Polis) is not changing the law,” a member from a group calling themselves the Colorado Health Choice Alliance posted on Facebook.

If learned and determined pediatricians can’t persuade these parents to vaccinate their children, if good sense and fear for their children’s health and lives doesn’t motivate them to protect their children with vaccine, no Facebook meme, posters or pleas on public service TV messages is going to make one damn bit of difference.

Colorado is high centered on an issue that shouldn’t even garner more public attention than a weather report on a cloudless day.

If ever there was a cause for a citizen initiative, this is it.

The state needs public health and public schools proponents to raise the cash needed to put the question of allowing needless, selfish and dangerous vaccine exemptions on the ballot. We need to allowing state residents to do what the government won’t — protect public health.

It looks like only voters will restate Colorado law as it was written. If a child attends public schools, he or she must be vaccinated, unless it would create a valid medical risk. If parents don’t want to vaccinate children, they can’t send them to public schools.

It’s straightforward, easy, sensible and enforceable.

With plagues of childhood diseases increasing across the nation, a plague in the place where vaccination rates are the lowest in the nation is inevitable, sooner rather than later.

It’s up to local private businesses, such as stores, malls, cinemas, amusement areas and swimming pools, to decide for themselves whether to prohibit unvaccinated children from risking the spread of disease in those places.

But it’s up to voters and the state government to ensure that at least public schools are safe for all children from preventable, expensive and possibly deadly scourges.

Follow @EditorDavePerry on Twitter and Facebook or reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected]