Rep. Karilyn Brown
BROWN: Aims to increase child vaccination rate by removing exemptions.
(R-Sherwood) yesterday filed a bill to require all schoolchildren be vaccinated against highly contagious diseases like measles, removing the state's current exemption for religious or philosophical objections.
The vaccine requirement, which applies to public and private schools, as well as day cares, would only retain one exemption under Brown's bill: "a physical disability that may contraindicate vaccination." Under current law, parents can also apply for an exemption "on the grounds that immunization conflicts with the religious or philosophical beliefs of the parent."
Arkansas in 2003 added the generalized "philosophical beliefs" exemption in addition to religious objections (it is now one of eighteen states to include the philosophical exemption). A subset of parents has become convinced, without scientific evidence
, that vaccines are harmful, and the addition of the philosophical exemption led to a spike in unvaccinated children in Arkansas schools
. In 2015, around 6,000 children attending Arkansas schools in 2015 had not received some or all of shots the Health Department requires. This presents a potentially dangerous public health threat; abstentions from vaccinations weaken the herd immunity
and increase the likelihood that diseases spread, including to kids who don't develop full immunity after being vaccinated or are unable to get vaccines for health reasons.
Brown's bill would eliminate the philosophical exemption (again, Arkansas is one of eighteen states that have one now) and also
eliminate the religious exemption, which would make Arkansas an outlier. Only two states do not have a religious exemption for vaccinating schoolchildren today — Mississippi and West Virginia. Both have high rates of vaccination. In fact, Mississippi has the best child vaccination in the country
. Arkansas has one of the worst
Brown's bill would also add five viruses to the list of required vaccinations for schoolchildren: Hepatitis A and B, rotavirus, pneumococcus, and haemophilus.
Without running through all of the thorny issues of public health, children's safety, individual conscience, religious freedom, and government control, I think it's a safe bet that this bill will spark some controversy. Anti-vaxxers are very squeaky wheels at legislative committee meetings.
For what it's worth, here is a rundown of the scientific evidence on vaccines
from Dr. Aaron Carroll
at the New York Times:
Here are the facts:
Vaccines aren’t linked to autism.
The number of vaccines children receive is not more concerning than it used to be.
Delaying their administration provides no benefit, while leaving children at risk.
All the childhood vaccines are important.