As other states are facing outbreaks of childhood diseases such as measles and mumps, Ohio lawmakers are considering legislation that would require school districts to tell parents how easy it is to opt out of immunizations.
When schools notify parents of immunization requirements, they would be required to spell out available exemptions, according to a bill introduced in the Ohio House on Tuesday.
The legislation could lead to more parents deciding to skip vaccinations for their children, which would put the community at large at risk, experts say.
House Bill 132 is expected to be the latest flash point between vocal anti-vaccine activists and public health advocates.
“It is stunning to me to see our state introduce legislation when we’ve had outbreaks of measles, mumps, whooping cough. We just had our third pediatric death from flu. These are all preventable through vaccines,” said Melissa Wervey Arnold, chief executive of the Ohio chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Under current law, Ohio allows parents to opt out of childhood vaccinations for medical or “reasons of conscience.” House Bill 132 would require the broad opt-out language is spelled out on the school forms.
HB132 is co-sponsored by local Republican lawmakers Jim Butler, Nino Vitale, George Lang and Scott Lipps.
State Rep. Don Manning, R-New Middletown, noted that HB132 doesn’t change requirements or exemptions. “The intent of the bill is to make sure people are given the correct information,” said Manning, the primary sponsor. He said he received complaints about school districts giving misinformation to parents, saying Ohio law doesn’t allow for exemptions.
Higher immunization rates lead to better protection for everyone against serious diseases such as whooping cough, measles, mumps and tetanus. Herd immunity refers to the idea that the more people in a community who are immunized, whether by vaccination or by natural immunity, the more protected the entire community is.
Babies who can’t be vaccinated yet, those with compromised immune systems and people with medical exemptions from vaccines rely on herd immunity to protect them.
Every student is supposed to have evidence of all required shots, or have submitted an exemption, by 14 days into the school year or they are not allowed to attend. Districts submit data to the Ohio Department of Health.
Arnold said that the data collection needs to be improved and forms used by Ohio’s 600 school districts need to be standardized.
She said that public health advocates plan to lobby for a bill that would require a health care provider signature on school immunization forms, indicating that parents who opt out have had a conversation about the risks and benefits of vaccinations.
Manning said he would support such a requirement as long as parents were given correct information.
Similar bills have stalled in previous legislative sessions. While supported by the American Academy of Pediatrics and others, the bills encountered opposition from Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom, a non-profit created in 2015 to oppose medical mandates.
A study published earlier this month in the Annals of Internal Medicine again refuted the idea that the measles, mumps, rubella vaccine causes autism. More than 657,000 children in Denmark were followed for more than a decade after receiving the MMR vaccinations.
“The study strongly supports that MMR vaccination does not increase the risk for autism, does not trigger autism in susceptible children, and is not associated with clustering of autism cases after vaccination,” researchers concluded.