The Utah State Legislature is currently considering three bills that affect Utah vaccine policy. The first two bills, HB3080S1 and HB309, were combined into one bill, with no amendments, as of yesterday. These two affect frequency and procedure for getting vaccination exemptions. The third, HB310, affects reporting and collection of data.
The now combined HB3080S1 and HB309 direct the Utah Department of Health to create an “education” module on vaccines that will instruct parents who choose not to vaccinate. Although the language of the bill restricts the content and length of the module, I am not anticipating a unbiased presentation of fact. This bill also adds one exemption renewal at 7th grade.
Another downside is that the ability to write your own religious exemption has been removed. Under the new law, religious exemptions will treated the same way as personal exemptions.
HB310 expands the reach of a centralized statewide database that has existed in Utah since the early 1990’s. This database is used for reporting the administration of FDA approved vaccines in Utah. Many vaccine administrators already use this database (1,030 of 1,500 in the state), but this bill would make reporting mandatory. Centralizing information is always a problem, because databases are always susceptible to a breach. Always. The larger the database, the bigger the prize. If we need to keep records they should be kept locally. If people can’t remember which vaccines their children have had, they can contact their family doctor. The rare situations in which someone might need immediate information on previously adminstered vaccines does not justify making every vaccine recipient in the state a target.
HB3080S1-309 remove a juvenile court penalty for non-compliance with Utah vaccine policy; they extend the time period for compliance; they remove the ability for health departments to charge fees for exemptions; they bring the process to your home computer, so that you can print out your own exemption form and take it straight to the school.
Considerations: For some families the trip to the health department is two or more hours each way. Many parents have also reported feeling intimidated and bullied by health department employees. Some end up vaccinating their children under pressure. These bills provide an option of going to the health department or getting exemptions from home.
HB310 doesn’t have upsides that I can see. The stated necessity for this action is to make sure people are not getting double doses of vaccines. I think there may be better solutions to that problem. The bill does require vaccine administrators to advise parents of their right to opt out of this system. This database only includes those who have been vaccinated, who have not opted out.
I see the first two bills as a net step forward for parental rights regarding Utah vaccination policy. The third, not so much. There is much left to be done, but we are making progress.
UPDATE: 308/309 passed through the House and Senate. 310 was pronounced dead on the Senate floor, due to lack of funding. Nothing is actually dead until midnight Thursday, when the session ends.
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To determine status of the bills, track progress, or view committee calendars, go to le.utah.gov. These bills will likely be heard and voted on in the Senate, March 7, 2017.