Protecting Vaccine Choice in Colorado: Part 2
The Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE) is a rouge state agency that frequently operates outside of their jurisdictional limits. The Vaccine Division of this agency, in particular, is so obsessed with their mission to vaccine every child that the law, it would seem, is a trivial inconvenience to be ignored.
Late in 2015, they gave a presentation to school nurses in which they claimed a new law had authorized CDPHE to create an official vaccine exemption form. The “new law” they referred to was not proposed until the introduction of HB 16-1164 in early 2016. Larry Wolk, Director of CDPHE, actually testified that CDPHE had indeed “jumped the gun” and created the new forms before the bill was even introduced.
In January of 2016, a State Auditor’s report on the CDPHE and their use of Tobacco Settlement Funds found gross conflicts of interest in the agency and declared that “the department lacks authority to enforce compliance with school entry immunization requirements”.
Then, in early 2016 CDPHE and their legislative allies finally did introduce HB 16-1164 with the intention of providing CDPHE with the funding and the authority to enforce the use of proposed new online exemption forms. Coloradan parents once again came together to defeat unnecessary anti-choice legislation.
This time we showed up not just well informed but also unified and organized as the Colorado Coalition for Vaccine Choice (CCVC). Representative Dan Pabon, the main sponsor of the bill, tried in testimony to portray it as a ‘simple bill’ that merely offered their ‘really quite neat’ online form as a convenient ‘service’ to parents.
Parents saw it for what it was: an attempt to circumvent federally protected privacy rights and data mine student information. The bill passed through committee but when an amendment was proposed to make CIIS an opt-in rather than opt-out system, the bill sponsors let the bill die because, in Dan Pabon’s own words, “no one would opt in.” (please see my guest editorial in Denver Post)
That summer two pivotal things happened. CCVC was incorporated as an official Colorado non-profit organization and CDPHE continued to pursue their agenda as if 1164 had become law.
In July, CDPHE revealed their new website and exemption form to the public; telling school nurses and administrators that parents must use this new system, preferably online.
They did not, however, tell parents that the new forms contained compelled speech implicating parents of knowingly endangering their child’s health or that by using the forms parents would forfeit medical privacy rights. CCVC, along with parents around the state, immediately called attention to the legal and ethical errors of CDPHE’s demands.
Attorneys from the Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) threatened CDPHE with legal action and the agency backed down, rearranging the compelled speech to be slightly less offensive. CDPHE continued, though, to violate Colorado law by coercing parents to use their legislatively unapproved form.
One aspect of 1288 that has been followed is the careful compilation of vaccine exemption data from schools across the state. The intention of this was ostensibly to provide parents with the information they needed to choose a ‘safe school’ with high vaccine acceptance. Interestingly, when the data is compared with schools’ test scores, the schools with the highest exemption rates also happen to be the schools with the highest performing students .
On January 9, 2017 there was a hearing regarding CDPHE and an evaluation of their compliance with what is known as the SMART Act. The “ART” in this act stands for Accountable, Responsive, and Transparent. Once again parents showed up voice concerns about CDPHE’s utter lack of all of these traits.
The CDPHE’s 1 1/2 hour presentation brilliantly illustrated that their attitude towards vaccine exemptors appears to be the same attitude they have towards everyone. Fish dying in the river? No worries, probably just coincidental to that last chemical spill. There are ‘natural’ pollutants too you know. Kids getting asthma near gas drilling? Don’t panic, we can’t read too much into that because there are many causes of asthma.
As the legislative session opened last January there was a clear change in direction. In light of CDPHE’s history of trying to circumvent the law, a bipartisan bill was proposed to clarify that existing statute only requires a written statement of exemption be submitted to a child’s school.
The bill, SB17-250, was simple and straight forward: No official exemption form can mandated. After more than three hours of testimony, the majority of which was in favor of the bill, SB17-250 passed the Senate Health Committee 3-1. Testimony, and ultimately a legislator’s vote, on any given bill, by rule, is supposed to focus on the content and intent of the bill in discussion.
The opposition completely disregarded this rule and turned the discussion into one about their perceived fears of vaccine exemptions. On April 19, because fear tactics do work, the bill failed to pass the Senate floor vote. However, it is important to note that the CDPHE now has a letter posted on their website stating that, in fact, the parents of Colorado are correct and no official form is required.
The rights of parents to decide what does and does not get injected into their children’s bodies should be unassailable.
Yet, this innate passion for a mother to protect her babies is under constant and carefully orchestrated assault. Colorado will not go the way of California’s draconian compulsory vaccination laws. We are organized, unified, and deeply informed. Our children are among the healthiest in the country and our adults are among the best educated. Our vaccine exemption rights are well established and, for now, well defended.
By Phil Silberman / December 15, 2017