24 March 2021 | Health

Why legislators should leave Kansas' required vaccine process alone

Kansas Action for Children
March 23, 2021

On March 22, 17 organizations, seven school nurses, and five other individuals, including a state representative, provided testimony to the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee in opposition to SB 212. Right now, trusted public health officials decide on the required vaccines for school and child care facilities. Dr. Kevin Ault, a member of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, walked committee members through the panel's role in his neutral testimony. SB 212 would tear that responsibility away -- and potentially put kids and families at risk.

Here’s what some of those organizations and individuals said. Click on the name of the individual or organization to read their full testimony. (You can see KAC's testimony here.)

Dana Desjardins, School Nurse: “I had a dad who did not want to get his daughter vaccinated with the Meningitis vaccine the 2nd time because of the cost. Required vaccines are free or covered by insurances. Our KDHE and health clinics work hard to provide vaccinations at a minimal cost to those with strained finances. I asked him, is $30 - $60 too much when a person who contracts Meningitis may spend weeks to months in the hospital, out of school and out of work. And more than likely will suffer from long term health problems because they were not vaccinated? He is taking his daughter next week for her 2nd meningitis vaccine.”

Rep. Dr. John Eplee: “If ever there was a solution looking for a problem--it is this bill. There is no need for this bill despite the testimony you just heard. In the vaccination world we are truly victims of our success. When you consider all the many diseases we no longer see or deal with because of vaccinations, the only problem is that immunizations work TOO WELL. I think many of us have completely forgotten why we give vaccines…We have so many more vaccines than 30 years ago because medicine has evolved in the science and determined it is far better to be pre-emptive with disease rather than reactive. Simply put it is cost effective and saves lives. This is called preventative medicine.”

Sarah Irsik-Good: The Immunize Kansas Coalition* “is a group of Kansas providers, health department officials, researchers and educators working together to improve the health of Kansas through improved vaccination rates to protect against vaccine-preventable diseases. Both IKC and KFMC are independent and objective sources of evidence and facts, contrary to some of the misinformation you may have received (see # 12 and 13 in the attached assessment of facts)...IKC’s members volunteer their time and resources to support our mission of protecting every Kansan from vaccine preventable diseases. We do this work because we believe in the science behind the vaccine recommendations, and like you, we want only the best for the residents of Kansas. One of our goals is to provide education and information, which will empower you, as legislators, to process and respond to the information you are receiving in an informed way.”

Andy Marso: “Most parents only get their kids the required vaccines, and no one told my mom and dad they should be afraid of meningitis. That’s exactly what the health professionals at KDHE did by requiring the meningitis vaccine. They gave parents the clear message that this contagious disease is nothing to mess with, and every adolescent who can get vaccinated should get vaccinated to protect themselves and their classmates. Kansas has historically ranked among the bottom states for meningitis vaccination rates. KDHE’s experts recognized that problem and made an evidence-based move to fix it.”

Heather McPhail, School Nurse: “We have vaccinations for communicable diseases because years ago scientists did not want another human being to die by something that could possibly be prevented. Perhaps their own children or other family members died from Pertussis. Do you know why Pertussis can be fatal for babies? Babies cannot cough forcibly enough to clear the respiratory secretions produced by Pertussis and they essentially drown in their own mucus. Can you imagine being a parent or grandparent having to see this happen? If you pass this bill that would be the fate of more and more babies.”

Sharon Morris, School Nurse: “State immunization requirements for school age children exist to protect children against vaccine preventable diseases. These requirements are important in keeping students in school. The herd immunity of the majority of students helps protect the most vulnerable of our community—individuals with complex medical conditions (immune suppression) or allergy to an immunization by wrapping them in a community of vaccinated peers.”

Shelby Ostrom: “Included in my submitted testimony, I provided the story of my great aunt Joyce Berry. At 9 years old in 1952, Joyce was diagnosed with polio. Because of this illness, she became paralyzed from the waist down. While she eventually regained the use of her legs, she never received the vaccine against polio. Eventually got post-polio syndrome and once again lost the use of her legs and fell off a bus in 2015. If a vaccine had been available for my Aunt Joyce, she could have been spared the life-threatening illness and its debilitating effects over the course of her life.”

Connie Satzler: “For me as a parent, the school requirements provided an extra layer of credibility as I talked through vaccines with my health provider, making me more likely to vaccinate to protect my children. I want those decisions made by public health experts, not legislators.”

Meagan Schaefer, School Nurse: “If vaccines were listed in statute, the ability to respond to changes in a timely manner would be impaired due to the limits of the legislative process for introducing and approving bills. Being able to react to disease based on science and timeliness is essential to preventing the spread of disease. Vaccination is science not politics.”

Michelle Shull, School Nurse: “I have been a registered nurse for 35 years. Most of those years have been spent working with children. I have personally seen the difference that a vaccine can make. When I first started my nursing career I worked on a Pediatric hospital unit. Every winter we would have several patients with Haemophilus influenza meningitis. When the HIB vaccine was developed and administered it made a huge impact in how many children were getting sick. This vaccine, like many others have saved many lives every year.”

Michelle Spangler, School Nurse: “The COVID-19 pandemic only reinforces the importance of public health in retaining its authority to regulate vaccines in a way that serves all Kansans based upon best practices rooted in science and facts.”

Lori Stubbs, School Nurse: “The reason there has been very few outbreaks of communicable vaccine preventable diseases in Wyandotte County is because the science-backed KS required vaccines for school entry is enforced by school districts through their School Nurses. School Nurses work very hard to educate families on the KS required school entry vaccines and why they are crucial not only to their own child’s health but to public health overall. School Nurses provide not only education to families but resources and follow up also.”

Barber County Health Department: “Given the dangers posed by vaccine-preventable diseases and the high level of expertise needed to properly make immunization schedule recommendations, we believe the existing system is ideally posed to determine which vaccines should be mandated by schools and childcare facilities.”

Biotechnology Innovation Organization: “Protection against infectious diseases depends upon community immunity, and therefore state policies should facilitate high immunization rates. High vaccination rates are especially critical for the protection of those who are unable to be vaccinated and to preventing unnecessary infectious disease outbreaks.”

Kansas Academy of Family Physicians: “The current administrative process allows a timely, evidence-based response to changes in ACIP recommendations, both to add and remove vaccines from the requirements list. Listing vaccines in statute, as in SB 212, would create a needlessly cumbersome process for change, even with the provisions offered.”

Geary County Health Department: “KDHE employs public health experts who are trained in such science and are the ideal decision-makers to protect the public's health from vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Immunize Kansas Coalition: “Listing vaccines in statute, as proposed in SB 212, would lead to confusion as recommendations change. A duplicative legislative step would only serve to delay protection of Kansas citizens from preventable diseases and would add a layer of politicization to vaccinations, a proven public health strategy. It is also worthy of note that nearly every state delegates to their respective state health department the authority to determine vaccination requirements. In Kansas, minimal changes have been made to the list of school vaccination requirements, only three times in the past 41 years.”

Kansas Association of Local Health Departments: “The Kansas Legislature lacks expertise in disease prevention and immunization decision-making. KDHE houses such experts. As such, it would appear SB 212 as written would shift decision-making away from where the expertise lies, which does not seem to be good public policy.”

Kansas Chapter, American Academy of Pediatrics: “Childhood vaccines have been extremely successful in reducing disease. With timely vaccination, children can be protected from 16 vaccine-preventable diseases, and there are record-low rates for most (but not all) vaccine preventable diseases. Ironically, due to the tremendous success of vaccines, the result has been a low disease burden with resulting low disease awareness, more attention paid to vaccine risks than benefits, multiple vaccines to be given, and low tolerance for vaccine risks. As a consequence, there are some parents who have concerns about vaccines.”

Dr. Lee Norman, Secretary of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment: “Currently, vaccine requirements are found in a public health regulation, K.A.R. 28-1-20. The regulation was first adopted in 1978 and has only been amended three times in over 40 years, demonstrating the Department’s commitment to evidence-based public health decisions and conservative use of the regulation promulgation process as it applies to immunizations. The KDHE Secretary is advised by the content experts in the Kansas Immunization Program which makes determinations of the annual list of required vaccines based on the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP). The ACIP is regarded as the premier resource for guidance on vaccine best practices.”

Kansas Medical Society: “Current law allows the Secretary of KDHE to add or remove vaccinations from those required for schools and daycares, if medical and scientific recommendations change. This structure serves three important objectives. First, it ensures scientific evidence is the basis for vaccination schedules. Second it does not burden the department with continually reviewing immunizations with proven efficacy while still allowing them to adjust the schedule as necessary to reflect relevant data and outcomes. Finally, it protects against the politicization of medical direction implemented to improve the health and safety of Kansans. As we all know, the legislative process is unpredictable and could present serious delays in necessary action.”

Kansas Public Health Association: “Public health professionals at KDHE are the best prepared to follow changes in the science related to immunizations and vaccination schedules. As such, the Secretary of Health and Environment, supported by the public health experts at the agency, is most appropriately equipped to determine needed changes to vaccine requirements for schools and daycares.”

Kansas State Nurses Association: “Nurses must also advocate for, educate, and advise patients to adhere to vaccination schedules recommended by the ACIP, explaining their need and public health implications. Patients’ fears and questions regarding immunizations should be acknowledged, and then answered with evidence-based information. Nurses must emphasize that recommended immunizations are safe and effective as proven by all evidenced-based research. As stated in the Code of Ethics for Nurses (ANA, 2015, p. 19), RNs have an ethical responsibility to 'model the same health maintenance and health promotion measures that they teach and research…,' which includes immunization against vaccine-preventable diseases.”

Linn County Health Department: “The administrative regulation process that currently exists is deliberative and transparent, so there is no real gain to be had from a public knowledge perspective by shifting over to the Kansas Legislature.”

Morton County Health Department: “Respectfully, the Kansas Legislature lacks the expertise in disease prevention and immunization decision-making to be the appropriate body to make such vaccine determinations. As we are just starting to recover from the COVID-19 pandemic, the last thing we need right now is another disease outbreak, and particularly ones that are vaccine preventable. “

SEK Multi-County Health Department: “As a local health department, we are greatly concerned with protecting the health of the public and view SB 212 as bad public policy.”

Shawnee Mission School District: “In my school community, vaccinations help keep students [safe] who are unable to receive various vaccinations due to allergies and medical diagnoses. If we were to take away the current vaccination requirements being updated every quarter by ACIP, which is comprised of medical and public health experts, some of our students may be subject to vaccine preventable communicable diseases while they wait for legislation to change the requirements.”

The University of Kansas Cancer Center: “Vaccinations have protected the lives and health of countless Kansans. Vaccines are safe, and side effects – when they occur – are typically minor and temporary. Vaccines are closely and continuously monitored by the United States vaccine safety program. On top of being effective, safe, and well-monitored, one vaccine in particular – hepatitis B – may help reduce the risk of liver cancer, a cancer that will claim the lives of many Kansans this year. At The University of Kansas Cancer Center, it is our duty to make a significant impact in decreasing the burden of cancer across our state. Advocating to keep the authority to determine vaccination requirements with the state health department, as nearly every state does, is one way we can realize that impact.”

*Kansas Action for Children is a member of the Immunize Kansas Coalition.

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