Immunization data bill inspires passionate testimony

by Brian Bahouth

This photograph depicts the face of a young boy with measles, which was captured on the third day of its characteristic rash - image - US Centers for Disease Control

Carson City – When a child attends a public school in Nevada, like in every other state, certain immunizations must be up to date, or a formal exemption is required.  In Nevada there are two justifications for not being immunized, religious or medical, but officials at the Nevada Department of Public and Behavioral Health have concerns that should there be an outbreak of a communicable disease in a public school, their immunization records system is not robust and consistent enough across the state’s 17 districts to remove unvaccinated kids from school in a timely way and otherwise manage the outbreak, so according to its sponsors, AB123 is intended to enhance the data collection process and centralize immunization information for rapid use during a disease outbreak.

Assemblywoman Connie Munk presented AB123 the Assembly Committee on education on February 19, 2019.  Hear her initial presentation remarks …

“This bill does not, and I repeat, this bill does not require parents to vaccinate their children.  This bill does improve the response time in case of an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease,” Munk said.

“Some of us may remember when the Chicken Pox, measles, mumps, whooping cough were common,” Munk continued.  “I’m a mother of three children. I’m a mental health professional, and I’m also a breast cancer survivor, and in my lifetime I have seen enough diseases.  I would be happy to see them gone forever, thanks to immunizations.”

Measles outbreaks occurring right now in Washington state and Oregon are making national news.  Worth noting, Oregon is the state with the lowest percentage of children receiving vaccinations according to the National Vaccination Information Center (NVIC), and according to reports, health department workers in both states are scrambling to contain and end the increasingly costly outbreaks.

“Unfortunately, some of these preventable diseases are making a comeback,” Assemblywoman Munk said during her presentation.  “For example, in 2000, measles were declared eliminated by the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but we fast-forward to 2019, and Governor Jay Inslee of the state of Washington is having to declare a state of emergency due to the measles outbreak in Washington.  As of yesterday there were 63 cases of known measles outbreak.”

Assemblywoman Munk said schools are ideal breeding grounds for highly contagious diseases.

“In the event of an outbreak, an exempted student is not allowed to attend school.  This benefits the student by lowering his or her infection risk and also prevents further spread of the disease in the community, however our current law has some issues that need to be addressed.

“First, it is important to identify these opted out students during an outbreak of a preventable disease in order to lower the infection risk and further spreading of the disease.  Public health authorities have reported slow response times with schools in Nevada during such outbreaks. Sometimes because some school did not properly collect or maintain student immunization records as required by law.

“Secondly, as of now, state county or city health authorities only have access to these student records when there’s already an outbreak of the disease.  It cannot identify coverage of gaps in the immunization, exempt student or the students that have opted out or students who have a required booster for certain immunizations.  Therefore we’re reacting to these diseases when instead we should be proactive and prevent them from happening or spreading. Assembly Bill 123 aims to fix these issues,” Munk said.  “This bill will clarify that school districts could and should improve their response times to health districts during an outbreak.”

Current Nevada law requires parents to sign an affidavit for an exemption for their children, and it is a misdemeanor to not remove a child from school when required by law.  Schools and daycare facilities must self report immunization data to the Department of Public and Behavioral Health on an annual basis, and Immunize Nevada has collaborated with state and local officials to develop a web-based portal for this immunization data.  Heidi Parker is a representative for Immunize Nevada and testified in support of AB123.

Hear Heidi Parker’s opening comments …

“The current information received is not robust enough to fully track where potential hotspots are in schools with low immunization rates.  The self-reported rate provides and aggregate number, which does not provide the full story.  It’s a lot like the Cliff Notes version. The Division needs to have the exemption totals on an annual basis in order to effectively prepare and prevent for potential outbreaks, but also have a starting point if an outbreak is declared.

“As my submitted statement on measles outbreak outline stated that these disease outbreaks are costly for public health, healthcare, schools, families and the broader community. Working to prevent outbreaks is not only best practice, but it makes economic sense, especially in our state where we’re facing both public health and education funding challenges.  With an estimated 800 schools in Nevada, the capacity for error in interpretation of current law is immense.”

Parker went on to say that there are some very good, bad examples from the state’s more than 800 schools.  One district, according to Parker, unilaterally added and exemption for “personal,” which is not accommodated in state law.  Parker recalled reports that some schools do not accept a religious exemption, which is required by current law and AB123.

“This is why a standardized process is also necessary,” Parker said.  “It will reduce the burden the state has placed on schools to manage this process without clear guidelines or resources.”

Parker added that the state has developed clear guidelines and an associated form for a religious exemption but has yet to develop a working model for medical exemptions and that AB123 would help fix that shortcoming.

Shannon Bennett is the program manager for the Nevada immunization program and told lawmakers that the state and other public health agencies have had problems accurately excluding unvaccinated students from schools during vaccine-preventable disease outbreaks.

Hear Shannon Bennett’s opening remarks on AB123 …

“During a 2017 Pertussis (a.k.a. Whooping Cough) outbreak in rural Nevada that sickened 28 people, it took over a week for a school in the community to send a complete list of medically and religiously exempt students after it was requested,” Bennett said.  “Although the school did exclude these children as quickly as possible, this was challenging for the division and made the response to the disease outbreak difficult, as the division’s disease investigators were uncertain of the exact situation at the school.  Disease can spread quickly. Timeliness is extremely important to protect the vulnerable and prevent the further spread of disease. AB123 will assist in these situations because it will ensure that children are properly documented and recorded with health authorities at the beginning of the school year.  It will ensure enhanced communication between districts, the division and local health authorities during and before an outbreak. In addition to outbreak response, the bill will assist the division and local health authorities in understanding where pockets of need may be for further education and vaccination rate monitoring.”

Assemblywoman Lisa Krasner is a Republican representing part of Reno and a member of the Assembly committee on Education.  Krasner said she’s received a lot of email on this bill and had a specific question about language that would declare a child “neglected” who is excluded from school for not having current exemption paperwork or immunizations.

A child who is asked to leave school for lack of complete paperwork would, as of now, would be considered “neglected.” From the bill:

“A child who is excluded from school pursuant to this section shall be deemed to be a neglected child for the purposes of NRS 432.097 to 432.130, inclusive, and chapter 432B of NRS.”

Assemblywoman Munk responded that there are a pair of friendly amendments being written that would remove that language.

Hear audio of testimony in support of AB123:

Catherine O’Mara Nevada State Medical Association


Steve Kutz, division director, Washoe County Health District


Donna West

The following groups or agencies testified in support of AB123:

The Nevada Association of School Superintendents, the Nevada Association of School Boards, the Nevada Public Health Association, the Nevada Primary Care Association, Nicki Aaker, director of Carson City Health and Human Services, Planned Parenthood Votes Nevada, the Children’s Advocacy Alliance, Clark County Education Association, and the Southern Nevada Health District.

Opposition

Testimony in opposition to this bill was broad in tone.  Many, with respectful passion, shared their religious, philosophical or political opposition to the measure.  Parents who lost children to immunization and others who had been severely harmed offered powerful testimony, but others were less gracious, and some suggested lawmakers be legally pursued for their support of AB123.  Some were insulting to lawmakers, and a person who identified himself as a lawyer concluded his testimony howling a threat to sue chair of the Assembly Committee on Education Tyrone Thompson for his support of the measure.

Committee chair Thompson, a Democrat from North Las Vegas, never lost his cool and respectfully afforded everyone the same opportunity to speak to the bill, an admirable job hearing a difficult bill.

Jami Hepworth said she opposes the bill because the vaccines are created using aborted fetuses, and yes, several vaccines are cultivated in cells from aborted fetus’, though the cells are in most cases very old and sustained in a laboratory, so there is little to no demand for new aborted host tissue.

Hear Jami Hepworth’s testimony …

“As a pro-life person I didn’t want to accept this into my family’s bodies,” Hepworth said.  “To me this is an example of medical cannibalism.”

Daphne Lee spoke in opposition to the bill.  Hear Lee’s testimony on AB123 …

“I am deeply disturbed by the language I’ve read in AB123.  I am very concerned that this bill is essentially creating a religious registry,” Lee said from Las Vegas.

“The First Amendment guarantees and protects religion as one of the founding principles of this nation with historical references to guide us.  I would hope that any such registry, regardless of reasoning would be deeply frowned upon,” Lee said.

Janine Hansen of Nevada Families for Freedom spoke against the measure.  The Nevada Eagle Forum also spoke in opposition.

Even though the bill does not remove the religious exemption in Nevada, Diane Bishop expressed concern that the measure impinges on religious freedom.

“We are one nation under God, and yet our right to religious liberty is in danger,” Bishop said.  “Bills in several states seek to totally remove religious exemptions for vaccinations, and this has been done in California, West Virginia, Mississippi.  Tyranny encroaches.”

Bishop is correct in saying that California, West Virginia, Mississippi have rolled back religious exemptions for vaccinations.

A few parents who lost children to vaccinations addressed the committee.  Matthew Sheel  held his daughter’s ashes while he spoke from Las Vegas.

“Here’s my daughter’s ashes.  She was a Henderson baby. All my children are vaccinated.  She died within 24 hours of the MMR and DTAP vaccine, and all my kids were vaccinated, and she had a textbook mortal reaction to the vaccines.  Now you’re going into all this reporting of data, but when you die or get injured, the federal government has a self-reporting system. This is all about doing more sales and marketing for immunizations, and people who are vaccine injured are a minority, and this is picking on them, and they should be protected, and the federal government has paid out $4 billion since 1986 for people that have died or been injured through a court of law, and you’re here to make Nevada a gateway to make our children pincushions for profit under the ruse of public health.”

Sara McDuffy said she is a mother of seven children and did not have a “fancy degree,” but that she was an expert in her children.

Hear Sara McDuffy’s testimony …

“I am also a Christian and a believer in God and in the Savior Jesus Christ.  I will not shoot up my children with aborted baby cells. I believe in life and value of life.  It is vehemently against my husband and I religious belief. You are throwing the words ‘neglect’ and ‘misdemeanor’ around and trying to put my very healthy children on a list to be discriminated against.  They have a right to education. AB123 is absolutely unconstitutional. You are violating my child’s right to privacy as well as my religious freedom.”

Hear select audio testimony of those in opposition to AB123. If we misspelled your name, please write us at feedback@nevadacapitalnews.org with a correction.

Mia Lowery

Denise Moraz

Whiz Rizard …

Cindy Lake