Monday, March 9, 2015

We Must Stand Up and Be Counted: Saving HB 393

We are in danger of seeing a commonsense change in Minnesota's immunization law go down without a fight, thanks to the anti-vaccine movement's attempts to derail it. HB 393 would add an education component to our existing personal belief exemption.

Though they present themselves to the legislators as champions of parental rights and "informed consent" these individuals do not want vaccine requirements of any kind on the books in Minnesota, or in any state. They have deluged the representatives with e-mails, and several representatives now believe their point of view represents that of parents and have "concerns" about the bill. Those of us who vaccinate--a whopping 9 out of 10--have stayed silent. We have let, and even after the measles outbreak, are continuing to allow the anti-vaccine fringe to speak for us. This must change. You may contact the following Minnesota legislators to ask them to holding a hearing on HB 393. Even if you live out of state, please consider e-mailing the representatives--the anti-vaccine movement has done so, with great success. Below you will find my letter and the names and e-mail addresses of the representatives who need to hear from you.

Rep. Tara Mack (chair):
Rep. Roz Peterson (co-chair):
Rep. Jeff Backer:
Rep. Dave Baker:
Rep. Matt Dean:
Rep. Duane Quam:
Rep. Joe Schomacker:


Dear Representative X,

I am the parent of two young children who is writing to you today to urge you to give HB 393 a hearing in committee. I am part of the “silent majority” of parents who vaccinate their children on time, every time—and do so as a commonsense part of our family’s healthcare. In fact, well over 90% of us choose to vaccinate—that is 9 out of 10 parents who believe that vaccines are a valuable, in fact, essential tool to keeping our children and communities healthy. The reason we’ve been silent is because few of us ever imagined that we’d have to advocate for disease-free schools.

Like many new parents, I researched vaccines online before my children received their immunizations, and I was scared to my core by the “horror stories” I read about. At the time, I took these anecdotes at face value, a fact made even more embarrassing by the fact that I was an environmental investigative journalist for much of my twenties. In fact, I was being sold a bill of goods by individuals who have made it their aim to sow fear and doubt in the minds of parents in order to protect their own ability to keep their unvaccinated children in the schools and day cares with absolutely no trade-off whatsoever.

The measles outbreak of 2015 was, of course, an inevitable result of this fear and doubt spread by the anti-vaccine movement, which cleverly refers to its mission as “vaccine choice” or “parental choice,” or even “informed consent.” As a parent, it seems their choice to keep their children unvaccinated and at a higher risk of disease trumps my right to keep my own children safe from disease. In fact, their choices affected my own healthcare choices: During the measles outbreak of 2011, caused by unvaccinated children, I had to get my two-year-old toddler her MMR booster a full two years early. As a loving parent, I had no choice. The choice was made for me by the parents who did not vaccinate their children and yet were able to keep them in the schools and day cares of Minneapolis.

HB 393 is a bare-bones, commonsense change in the law that simply requires more education before a parent can simply choose not to vaccinate. It preserves a parent’s choice to refuse vaccines while giving parents who are simply hesitant—as I was—or who need more information the safety net of a meeting with a caring doctor. Those who don’t want to vaccinate, do not have to vaccinate. It’s curious that anti-vaccine activists, under the cloak of “parental choice,” could oppose a bill that preserves that choice. The truth is, this movement wants no laws on the books that require vaccines.

Of course, the bill does not address my concerns about leaving my children and the other children in my life whom I love in a school setting with unvaccinated children. But it’s a start. Not giving it a hearing would be elevating the vocal minority that is mischaracterizing this discussion as an attack on “parental rights” while denigrating the more than 90% of us who vaccinate, and disregarding the rights of infants, the children going through chemo, and other vulnerable people in our community.

I wish those of us who vaccinate were more vocal—we are well aware that the small anti-vaccine community has mobilized and enlisted people across the country to e-mail you and your colleagues with their objections. However, those of us who vaccinate our children face a dilemma—to us, vaccinating our children is one of the most important healthcare decisions we make, but it’s also so commonsense that we never thought we’d have to join a movement called the “pro-vaccine” movement. Please don’t mistake the many emails you’re getting from anti-vaccine voices for the true feelings of parents across this state. Our statistics speak for themselves.

Thank you,

Ashley Shelby 

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