DENVER | An attempt to better track vaccination rates in Colorado is moving ahead in the state Legislature — but it’s doubtful the effort will make it to the governor’s desk.
The bill to centralize immunization data at the state Health Department, instead of at school districts, passed a Democratic House committee late Thursday on a 7-6 vote after hours of impassioned testimony. It now heads to the full House, where its prospects are good, but then to the GOP Senate, where many Republicans consider the bill a privacy invasion of parents who might not want the state tracking their personal religious beliefs.
Emotions were raw even on the bill’s first hearing before a Democratic committee.
“My gosh, is this America?” asked Rep. Gordon Klingenschmitt, a Colorado Springs Republican who voted against the bill.
Supporters insist the bill isn’t an attempt to have the state bully parents who don’t want their children vaccinated. The mission, they argued, is better information about vaccination rates.
“It only makes sense to utilize the technology to have things be centralized,” said Dr. Matt Dorighi of Cherry Creek Pediatrics.
But the proposal opened an emotional debate about Colorado’s low vaccination rates. Colorado is one of 20 states that allow parents to claim any kind of personal opposition to required immunizations, and vaccine rates for some diseases are among the nation’s lowest.
Colorado passed a bill two years ago to have schools report vaccination rates. But for one in five Colorado kindergarteners, there was no immunization information on record for the 2014-15 school year.
“What we’re trying to do is move into a system where we have this information available,” said Rep. Dan Pabon, D-Denver and sponsor of the bill.
Just this week, Colorado health officials warned hospitals to be on the lookout for potential mumps patients after four cases were confirmed in Denver.
“Every day there are thousands of children who are put at risk by vaccine-preventable diseases,” Pabon argued.
But all Republicans voted against the bill, foreshadowing a tough road ahead if the bill gets to the GOP-controlled Senate.
“It’s not about vaccinations and immunizations. This bill is about the p-word: privacy,” said Rep. J. Paul Brown, R-Igancio.
Anti-vaccine parents packed the hearing room to voice similar concerns.
“I rely on (vaccine) exemptions to protect the health of my children,” said Sarah Carrasco, mother of three. “I am concerned that the language in this bill … creates the opportunity for an abusive power.”
Klingenschmitt summed up why some Republicans favor required vaccines but oppose efforts to make it harder to opt out of them.
“Either the government essentially sticks a needle in your child’s arm, or you confess your personal religious beliefs to the government. … And I think that’s wrong,” he said.
House Bill 1164: https://bit.ly/1LiW7kq