Board votes against conviction waivers
The Marathon County Board of Health on Tuesday voted in favor of a resolution in support of state legislation calling for the end of personal conviction waivers that give parents an option out of required school and day care immunizations.
The board vote, delayed for a month, followed hours of emotional testimony with parents and some chiropractors pleading with board members to retain personal choice over childhood vaccinations, while two Wausau area pediatricians and stu- dents at the Medical College of Wisconsin, Wausau, reminded board members of the life saving benefits of universal immunizations.
Wisconsin requires childhood immunizations for public school attendance, but, as one of 16 states, grants exemptions for medical reasons, religious belief or personal conviction.
While religious and medical waivers have held steady over the years, the percentage on non-vaccinated Wisconsin students who come to school with personal conviction waivers has increased from 1.2 percent in 1997-98 to 4.6 percent during 2018-10. Joan Theurer, county health offi cer, told board members that Marathon County is seeing this trend among local school children. The school immunization rate now sits at 93.1 percent, she said, and the percent of personal conviction waivers has increased to 3.7 percent.
Theurer warned that an unvaccinated population risked the spread of infectious disease. She said that problem has been documented in Sweden and Britain.
Around 50 people crammed into the county’s assembly room to present arguments on both sides of the issue.
For those opposed, they said parents should retain the freedom to either vaccinate or not vaccinate their children.
“I’m not against vaccines,” said Lisa Barnett, “but taking away the right to protect our children is wrong.”
Several people said vaccines had caused themselves or their children to come down with life-destroying maladies, including epileptic seizures and anorexia. Some speakers spoke tearfully about their experiences.
T hese people blamed “Big Pharma” for pushing immunizations on America’s children and questioned whether today’s rash of childhood diseases, including obesity and food allergies, might be linked to vaccine use.
They further blamed the nation’s large drug companies, who enjoy fed- eral protection against lawsuits from vaccine-caused illness, for not fully researching the problems with their products. People injured by vaccines are able to be awarded damages by a federal program, the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program, but few people actually use this service, resolution opponents said. They added that it is not known how many people are hurt annually through immunizations. Carol Resech, a mother of four children, said the decision over vaccinations should lie with the parents, not the government, including the county board of health.
“How do you get to make that choice for every child in the county?” she asked.
Members of the public who supported the resolution told board members that vaccines were among the great advances in public health and how terrible life was without them.
Dr. Jeffrey Lamont, a pediatrician since 1982, said he’s thankful that vaccines have nearly eradicated illnesses that were devastating and difficult, if not impossible to treat.
He said vaccines were “way, way safer” than other medicines and much safer than use of the public highways.
He said public health depended on a properly educated public which values immunizations of children.
“There is no room for emotion or exceptions,” he said.
Anna Hephron, a medical student, said she does research on the Zika virus because vaccines have wiped out other, more common illnesses, such as measles.
She credited immunizations with the increase in life expectancy.
Hephron said required vaccines don’t take away freedom, but just the opposite. “You have the freedom to be free from worry,” she said.
Board members said they listened to the public, read provided materials and considered their arguments, but in the end concluded that personal conviction waivers should end.
Board member Dean Danner, a 45 year veteran in the health care field, said he was politically “very conservative” and believed in a smaller government but, having seen the devastating effect of tuberculosis, meningitis and other preventable illness, said he fully believes in public health and immunizations.
“Public health is our backbone,” he said. Dr. Lori Shepherd said she was grateful vaccines have been able to stop so many childhood diseases, including tuberculosis.
“I am thankful I don’t have to tell parents that their children have died in an iron lung,” she said.
The Board of Health vote on the resolution will be communicated to the state legislature. A county board vote is not required.
Similar resolutions have been passed by Oneida, Price, Lincoln, Langlade and Wood counties.