I read with great interest the opinion piece published on Monday from Sen. Paul Boyer in support of SB1115. It started with a story about how a pediatrician told him “shut your mouth” when he asked a simple question about a vaccine. He told a similar story to a packed room during a Senate Education Committee meeting on February 19 in support of yet another bill designed to reduce vaccinations.
If the story is, indeed, true and Sen. Boyer was treated rudely, that is most unfortunate. However, what strikes me in his telling and retelling of this anecdote is that he somehow feels it is justification, even in part, for sponsoring several bills, which would curtail vaccinations. This is legislation that the Arizona Medical Association (ArMA) and a coalition of influential health care organizations, experts, and business groups believe would endanger the lives of thousands of Arizonans, including some of our most vulnerable citizens. There may be passing “outrage” at someone’s impolite outburst, but surely it cannot outweigh the fact that vaccinations have saved millions of lives around the world, and are hailed as one of the significant public health accomplishments of the last century?
I guess that question is up to the Legislature to decide, but I sure hope our lawmakers listen to Arizona’s Governor, Doug Ducey, who stated last week that he is “pro-vaccination and anti-measles” and declared that he would veto bills that erode vaccination coverage. ArMA joins Gov. Ducey in the fervent hope that scientific facts, rather than internet-perpetuated myths, prevail in this vaccination debate.
Here are the scientific facts: Along with sanitation, clean food and water, and antibiotics, vaccinations stand as one of the most important pillars of health improvement for the human species in our entire history. Diseases, such as smallpox, polio, and diphtheria that previously killed and maimed thousands of people, are now relegated to the history books – thanks to vaccinations.
More facts: A recent measles outbreak in Clark County, Washington, led that state to declare a public health emergency. Clark County has been dubbed an anti-vaccination “hot spot” with 68 confirmed cases of measles as of February, predominantly among those who were not immunized. Moreover, the CDC so far in 2019 has also seen reported cases of measles in California, Colorado, Connecticut, Georgia, Illinois, Kentucky, New York, Oregon and Texas.
And more: As recently as 2015, the CDC determined that Arizona babies were the least likely in the country to be vaccinated against measles, mumps, and rubella. In the CDC survey, only about 84 percent of the state’s children between the ages of 19 and 35 months have received the MMR shot, far below the national average of 91.5 percent.
So, the trends are all clear: outbreaks of dangerous yet preventable diseases like measles are on the upswing, and Arizona’s vaccination rates are already low. Accordingly, we should be doing more, not less, to encourage vaccinations and maintain community immunity. These bills do the opposite.
Specifically, SB1115 would mandate that all persons receiving a vaccine receive a tremendous amount of information (for a flu shot, up to 54 pages!), including but not limited to the vaccine manufacturer’s product insert and the CDC’s vaccine excipient and media summary. This unhelpful requirement applies to everyone getting a vaccination, including those wanting regular flu shots and people seeking vaccinations for overseas travel – whether they want it or not. This “Big Government” intrusion into the physician-patient relationship disregards that physicians already must discuss vaccine facts with their patients and obtain informed consent from them or their parent/guardian before proceeding with any vaccination. Most importantly, federal law already requires physicians to provide a Vaccine Information Statement prepared by the CDC to explain both vaccine benefits and risks. SB1115’s requirement is not only excessive but unnecessary – a “solution” to a problem that doesn’t exist.
To make a larger point, ArMA strongly believes that the effects of SB1115 and related bills will be to increase “vaccine hesitancy” in patients, which the World Health Organization lists as one of the top 10 threats to public health in the world. Groups pushing legislation that curtails vaccinations using dubious or discredited pseudo-science in support of their claims have gained traction in some quarters. ArMA and its coalition partners hope that Arizona legislators also hear the scientifically-supported facts, and the voices of the great majority in this debate: the millions of children and adults whose lives have been saved through vaccines; the many who have suffered and died due to the lack of vaccinations; and, the physicians and families who have had to deal with the tragedy of someone succumbing to an entirely preventable disease. For all of us, the choice is clear: we vaccinate.
Libby McDannell, CAE, is Executive Vice President of the Arizona Medical Association