Minnesota lawmaker aims to make it harder to avoid some vaccines

Published 9:35 pm Wednesday, May 24, 2017

ST. PAUL — Minnesota health officials said almost 70 confirmed cases of measles have been reported in the state so far this year, and a state lawmaker is hoping to make it harder for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children.

Nearly 2,000 kindergartners weren’t immunized against measles this year because their parents presented a notarized statement to avoid vaccination, Minnesota Public Radio  reported. This year’s measles outbreak has more cases than the past 20 years combined. The last big measles outbreak was in 2011, with 26 cases.

Rep. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, hopes the measles outbreak will convince lawmakers to make changes. Freiberg has repeatedly introduced a vaccine bill that would require parents to go over vaccine safety information with a doctor before opting out, but the legislation has failed to gain support in the Legislature.

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“If you make it at least as inconvenient, frankly, for them to not get vaccinated as it is to get vaccinated and in the process provide them with medically accurate information, then I think it’s very likely that they will actually get their children vaccinated,” Freiberg said.

A measles outbreak started in Disneyland in California in 2015, leading state lawmakers to enact a law there that requires medical justification for a child to skip immunization shots. The California lawmaker who helped pass that law, Sacramento Democratic Sen. Richard Pan, is also a pediatrician.

“It is unacceptable that we allow a small minority of people to allow spread of disease in our community,” Pan said. “That’s what happened in California.”

Leo Cashman, president of the Minnesota Natural Health Legal Reform Project, said requiring vaccination restricts parental rights.

“We are opposed to any attempt to weaken the parental right to choose on the question of the child’s vaccinations,” he said.

St. Paul resident and parent Ruth DeFoster said she doesn’t view vaccine requirements as restricting her rights. Every child who can tolerate the vaccine should be required to get it, she said.

“Vaccination only works when everyone who can get vaccinated is vaccinated,” DeFoster said.