Legislators Cautioned on Vaccine Authority Proposal

Published April 1, 2001

Legislation proposed by the only physician-member of the Minnesota state legislature has raised red flags among some vaccine and health policy groups.

Rep. Richard Mulder, M.D. (R-Ivanhoe) has introduced a bill that would transfer vaccine mandating authority from the legislature to the state health department and a state-level immunization task force.

“Unfortunately, these task forces and state agencies are not elected and therefore not directly accountable to the citizens the Minnesota,” testified Twila Brase, R.N., president of Citizens’ Council on Health Care (CCHC), a health care policy organization.

House File 886 is designed to ease the legislative burden for making vaccination mandate decisions, a process that has become nearly an annual event. The measure is supported by Harry Hull, the state epidemiologist, who expressed frustration with having to come to the state legislature for vaccine approvals every year.

“It’s simply not efficient to have a process that requires the legislative process” to update immunization schedules, agreed Dr. Scott Giebink, M.D., chair of the Health Department’s current Immunization Practices Task Force. Minnesota is one of only 10 states to require legislative approval for vaccine schedules.

Proponents of the bill reiterated to members of the House Health and Human Services policy committee that the legislation would continue to allow Minnesota parents the right of conscientious objection to vaccinations. Minnesota is one of only 16 states to allow conscientious objectors to “opt out” of immunizing their children.

That’s a right Mary Thereau didn’t know she had when she vaccinated her “normal healthy girl” at 4 months of age. Her now 20-year-old daughter, vaccine-injured and wheelchair-bound, accompanied her to the committee hearing. Testifying in opposition to the bill, Thereau said, “In 1980, nobody said to me that I had a choice.”

“Legislative scrutiny is necessary,” Brase asserted in testimony, “because once the vaccine is on the immunization schedule, many parents feel there’s no choice, especially with signs that say ‘No Shots, No School.'”

Mulder’s proposal requires that vaccine decisions made by the immunization task force and health department commissioner would be based on the recommendations of three national groups: the U.S. Public Health Services’ Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), the American Academy of Family Physicians, and the American Academy of Pediatrics.

That requirement did not satisfy Brase, who provided legislators with a long list of vaccines under consideration by national groups. She also noted that in 1999, the ACIP recommended the Rotavirus Vaccine be given to premature infants—even though the group acknowledged there had been no testing of the vaccine for that population, and even though it had no scientific data to back up its recommendation.

Notably, the Rotavirus was halted only four months after ACIP’s recommendation after reports of life-threatening intussusception (telescoping of the intestines) in 20 children after vaccination.

“As history demonstrates, vaccines can place the public’s health at risk. We urge caution in any plan that would lessen public accountability for and legislative scrutiny over decisions on state-mandated vaccinations,” concluded Brase.