As legislators we study bills, and then we vote to pass or kill them in our legislature. It is a process set in our Idaho Constitution, written in 1889. But there is a way to subvert this process and technology has made this easier.
We Idaho citizen legislators are supposed to be receptive to our constituents, and I try to be. I assume my colleagues are making the same effort. A couple weeks ago in a Senate committee two bills were proposed that made simple sense to me. I believe the truth around these laws was subverted.
If you want to, read SB1011 and SB1012. I encourage you to read them, since that is what we will vote on, or not in this case. I will try to tell you the story. It goes from zebras to the Koch brothers, but there are connections.
Idaho has had a long history of having a low rate of childhood immunizations. When I was a doctor practicing in Moscow, I spent time explaining immunizations, their risks and benefits to young moms and families and encouraged them to make a decision and proceed. I believe immunizations have saved a lot of lives. Indeed antibiotics are a distant second to immunizations when we talk of reducing childhood mortality.
Still, many parents don’t trust immunizations and chose not to have their children immunized. And many believe immunizations cause more harm than good. I did my best to respect the wishes of the families I served. And as a legislator, I try to maintain such respect for these choices.
Doctors kept immunization records in their offices on messy paper hand written charts, and sometimes parents would keep “shot records” on little folded yellow cards. I had one in my wallet for years. But Idaho got epidemics of whooping cough, and I saw cases of measles early on in Moscow. So either the
immunizations weren’t working or we weren’t immunizing enough kids to prevent these potentially fatal diseases. At this point I could digress to discuss “herd immunity”, which means, if most of the members of a herd are immunized, those that aren’t still receive a benefit, since they are exposed to less disease. But I will avoid the digression.
If 95% are immunized, the remaining 5% are protected.
I believed Idaho was immunizing at a rate similar to the rest of the nation, we just weren’t recording it very well. Others thought our immunization rate was low. To try to answer this question Idaho developed an immunization registry, IRIS. When first put in place parents had to “Opt In”, meaning parents had to say, when they chose to have their children immunized, that it was OK to transmit this information to the state registry. Our reported immunization rates stayed low. But a few years later the choice was made to switch to an “Opt Out” procedure, meaning, unless the parents asked to be excluded, the information would be entered into the state maintained data base. Suddenly, our immunization rates were now comparable to the national rates. It matters how you ask the question. My suspicions of poor recording were confirmed.
When the switch was made to the “Opt Out” protocol we made the law as specific as we could to protect the privacy of individuals “opting out” so that, if they didn’t want their information in the data base it would not be entered. But along comes electronic records and data gets entered often automatically. So let’s say a kid comes to my office for a well-child exam and the Mom is OK with the kid getting shots but doesn’t want her child in the state data base. We don’t send the information in, respecting her wishes. But four years later little Johnnie gets a cut, goes to the ER and gets stitches, and they ask, “Does he need a tetanus?” Mom can’t remember and so they give him a tetanus shot and this information is entered automatically since the electronic system is programmed to do this, and the ER doesn’t ask. I agree this is just as bothersome as a website keeping my log in data. But we are in the information age.
So the SB1011 is an attempt to solve this issue. If a mother says, “I don’t want Johnnie in the data base,” then we keep Johnnie’s name and date of birth on a list so when another provider tries to enter Johnnies tetanus at the ER, the data base can immediately stop that entry. SB 1011 is trying to respect the wishes of people who want to “Opt Out”.
In the last 5 years there have been over 3 million immunizations entered into the Idaho immunization data base and 185 cases of people wishing to “Opt Out”. But the proposed legislation is trying to bring us into the electronic age. Adults get flu shots, pneumonia shots, shingles immunizations. Do they want their information in the registry? Can we further protect the people who want to be excluded by retaining an identifier that protects them from their data being entered without their permission? This is what we want to accomplish with these bills.
Now we come to politics. Our state is engaged in a great debate. Many fear the intrusion of government in health care. And some are flexing their muscle in this debate. When this bill first came up I received 10-20 emails opposed. At the committee hearing many testified, including Wayne Hoffman, leader of the Idaho Freedom Foundation, with ties to ALEC and the Koch Brothers. Now I have received nearly 100 emails opposed to these bills. But the testimonies and the emails oppose this legislation because:
SB1011, and SB1012, are both an intrusion into your personal privacy.
It has become clear that some of our children are being sacrificed.
Those who wish to research vaccines won’t have a hard time finding the unthinkable ingredients used and the mass amounts of both physical and mental problems they create.
(Quoted text from emails)
I wondered how this had gotten so confused, so obfuscated, so misdirected with misinformation. Then a constituent sent me the text of an email he had received:
URGENT: New legislation has been introduced in the state of Idaho that would register every man, woman, and child in the state-run Immunization Registry (IRIS) to monitor their vaccine status. This sort of information has been used around the nation by Child Protective Services (CPS) to remove children from their parents because CPS deemed vaccination avoidance to be a form of medical neglect.
SB 1011 would require that every child in Idaho be registered in IRIS, even if you have chosen to opt them out of some or all vaccines. This would enable your child to be red-flagged by the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare.
SB 1012 would require all Idahoans from cradle to grave to be registered in IRIS. Can you imagine the wasted tax dollars monitoring everyone’s flu vaccine status, sending out reminders, and bothering folks who have decided a different path than that suggested?
If you know anyone in the state of Idaho, please make sure to forward this to them! Please email the members of the Idaho Senate Health and Welfare Committee and ask them to oppose this legislation. A two-minute email stating why you are opposed and copied to all the committee will suffice.
Suggested talking points pick one or a few:
-This is an intrusion into your privacy.
-Your medical records belong to you and the physician of your choice.
-You do not want the state to have the power to access your medical records either through IRIS or a state health insurance exchange.
-It is an unnecessary gathering of your personal information that could be abused in future
-As more parents educate themselves about the risks of the current vaccine requirements for daycare and school in Idaho, it would be a good idea for law makers to ask their constituents why the increase in recommended vaccines are not in their children’s best interest.
-While public health officials reassure that public that vaccines cause no harm, there is a Federal tax-payer funded program that compensates those who have been injured by vaccines
-There is abundant science showing cause for concern
-You have educated yourself about the best path for your family and do not need or want intrusion into these private matters from the state.
Frightening. These are great misrepresentations, in fact, these are lies. To what purpose?
There are many who do not want their children immunized. There are many who do not trust their governments. But I believe this campaign is using the fear these folks have to a different end. Who benefits from such tactics? I believe this is just a run up to the Otter-Hoffman lead ticket we will see in the coming weeks about the Health Insurance exchange. Fear-driven politics is being twisted to serve someone else’s purpose.
This week, the Department of Health and Welfare proposed a new bill that gave up on keeping data to protect the ones who want to opt out. So now, because of all the misinformation, those wishing to not be in the IRIS data base are going to be more likely to be accidentally included. Yes, it is complicated, and it takes some study to do these things right. Connecting to someone’s fear is much faster, much easier, and the internet helps.
So, you have just learned more than you wish to about immunizations and politics. I don’t know if this new bill will pass. And I don’t know if the state exchange bill will pass. But I believe the two are tied together. And misinformation about both is most of what we talk about. Please be patient. I believe the truth and freedom, and responsibility can win in this fracas, and our state will be served.