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Tuesday, February 25, 2020

Vaccine bill: Here's the basics on state lawmakers' new attempt to boost immunization rates

Posted By on Tue, Feb 25, 2020 at 5:19 PM

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State lawmakers have a new bill they hope will boost Colorado's dismal vaccination rates among school-age kids.

Senate Bill 163, which was approved by the Senate Appropriations Committee on Feb. 25 and referred for a vote of the full chamber, would standardize the process of obtaining a vaccine exemption for non-medical reasons. It's sponsored by Sens. Julie Gonzales, D-Denver, and Kevin Priola, R-Henderson.

Last year, Democratic Gov. Jared Polis frustrated some Democratic lawmakers when he said he wouldn't sign a similar bill, House Bill 1312 — stopping that bill in its tracks. Specifically, Polis opposed a requirement for parents to submit exemption forms in person at a state or local health department.

Even though that bill wouldn't have done away with non-medical exemptions, it drew plenty of determined supporters and impassioned opponents to testify on Capitol Hill before it ultimately didn't get passed sans support from Polis.

Likewise, lawmakers on the Senate Health & Human Services Committee heard more than 14 hours of testimony on SB163 at a hearing Feb. 19. It eventually passed on a 3-2 party-line vote.

In case you want to listen to the testimony on a 1,000-mile road trip, here's a link.

Here's what this year's bill would do:

• Formally define "nonmedical exemption" as an immunization exemption based upon a religious belief whose teachings are opposed to immunizations, or a personal belief that is opposed to immunizations.
• Require the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) to develop standardized forms and a submission process for people who want to claim a non-medical exemption for their child.
• Require a person who wants to claim a non-medical exemption to do so by submitting to the child's school either:
       - A certificate of completion of an online, interactive education module (which would include evidence-based, peer-reviewed data on "the benefits and risks of immunization and evidence-based practices to prevent the spread of vaccine-preventable disease"); or
       - A certificate of non-medical exemption.
• Require CDPHE to annually evaluate the state's immunization practices, and allow the state Board of Health to update the immunization practices if needed.
• Create a "vaccine-protected children standard" for 95 percent of the student population to be vaccinated, and require every school to publish its immunization rate and exemption rate on documents distributed annually to the parents, legal guardians and students.
• Require health practitioners to administer immunizations within their scope of practice to students and to submit immunization and exemption data to the immunization tracking system. (Practitioners would not be sanctioned for noncompliance.)

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