By Melissa Davlin, Idaho Reports
At the first hearing for Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s reauthorized rules, one subject dominated the testimony: What role, if any, the government should play in compelling parents to immunize their children.
Of the 23 people who testified at Thursday’s hearing in Boise, all but one touched on immunization requirements. Most focused their entire testimony on vaccines.
Fourteen opposed state mandates, while eight encouraged the state to keep the current vaccination rules on its books. Some limited their testimony to the philosophy behind state mandates, while others got into the science of and claims about vaccinations.
Idaho already has permissive immunization exemption rules. This year, the legislature made permanent rules that further loosen guidelines by allowing exemption notes on any piece of paper, as opposed to asking parents to fill out a form provided by the school, district or daycare. This change came as other states, like Maine and New York, tightened up their immunization requirements, disallowing any exemptions other than for medical reasons. (See a map of school immunization requirements by state here, via the National Conference of State Legislatures.)
Idaho’s immunization rate among students dropped last school year, with 7.7 percent of students opting out of the mandated vaccinations. That’s up from 6.9 percent from the previous year, according to Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News. IDHW data shows the majority of those exemptions were for religious or other reasons, with just a small percentage of students — .3 percent – claiming medical reasons for exemptions.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 1,203 measles cases have been confirmed this year in the United States as of Aug. 15, with the majority of those cases occurring in people who have not been vaccinated.
Both IDHW and the Idaho State Department of Education have encouraged guardians to vaccinate their children. Last year, Superintendent of Public Instruction Sherri Ybarra co-wrote a letter to then-IDHW director Russell Barron, outlining a 94 percent immunization rate. (Read more from Kevin Richert of Idaho Education News here.) And IDHW’s most recent blog post was on National Immunization Month. “High immunization rates across communities protect the health of those who are the most vulnerable for serious complications related to vaccine-preventable diseases, including infants and young children, the elderly, and people with chronic health conditions,” the post reads.
Other topics touched on in Thursday’s public comments include child welfare investigations and tests performed on newborn babies.
The hearing concerned existing rules that were reauthorized this year. As the state is so far along in the rulemaking process, it’s going to be difficult to make any changes before the final publication of rules in November, said Tamara Prisock, administrator of licensing and certification, at the Idaho Department of Health and Welfare’s Board of Directors meeting last week.
IDHW has five more public hearings on the existing rules scheduled throughout the state:
Aug. 23: 1 to 4 pm MDT, 150 Shoup Ave, 2nd Floor Conference Room, Idaho Falls
Aug. 26: 9 am to noon PDT, 1120 Iron Wood Drive, Lower Level Conference Room, Coeur d’Alene
Aug. 27: 10 am to noon PDT, 1118 F Street, 3rd Floor Conference Room, Lewiston
Aug. 27: 3 to 4:30 pm, 108 Grangeville Truck Route, Grangeville
Aug. 28: 1 to 4 pm, 601 Pole Line Road, Main Conference Room, Twin Falls
As for the department’s new rule dockets, each of those have their own hearings, or have already had hearings, Prisock said.