A bill that would require parents to have additional education before opting their children out of vaccinations passed in the state House Monday, after a local community leader defended it. The measure now goes to the Senate for debate.
The bill would require parents to take an online module or get a signature from a health-care professional before opting their children out of a vaccine. Currently, parents only have to sign a personal-belief exemption to opt their children out of school-required vaccines.
It would also require schools to publish the percentage of children who opted out. Proponents argue this would help protect children with immunodeficiencies.
Vangi McCoy, director of the Montelores Early Childhood Council, a faculty member at the local community college and a school board member in Dolores, was asked to testify March 13 because of her experience. She defended the bill in front of the Health, Insurance and Environment Committee. The bill passed the committee on a 9-2 vote.
McCoy testified that informed parents are better equipped to make good decisions.
"Health and education go hand in hand - they are both essential to ensuring kids grow up to succeed in life," McCoy said.
She went on to make the case for vaccination as one of the most cost-effective methods for protecting communities of children.
"When you get a group of children together, particularly young children, they share everything, including germs," she said.
McCoy said it was a contentious meeting because some parents who testified against the bill felt their right to opt-out of vaccination was being threatened.
During debate in the House, The Associated Press reported the measure drew fire from Republicans including Republican House Leader Brian DelGrosso, who argued the law was written on the assumption that parents were not smart enough to make a decision about vaccinations.
"You can spin it any other way you would like, but this basically says, 'Parents of Colorado that choose to not get immunization for their kids, you're too stupid to make this decision on your own,'" he said.
The bill is backed by the Colorado Children's Immunization Coalition, which studied how often parents were opting their children out of vaccinations. The coalition partnered with the state, and through their research, they found that about 3,000 kindergartners were opted out of vaccinations in the 2012-13 year.
After passing through the state House on a vote of 42-19, the measure will face tougher opposition in the state Senate, said Stephanie Wasserman executive director of the coalition.