Proposed law aims to increase vaccination rate in Pennsylvania
State Reps. Dan Frankel, D-Squirrel Hill, and Bridget Kosierowksi, D-Lackawanna, announced Tuesday the introduction of legislation to increase the vaccination rate of Pennsylvania children.
The bill would require parents who seek nonmedical exemptions for their children meet with a doctor every year to learn about the risks of not getting vaccinations. It also would mandate that Pennsylvania schools publish online the number of vaccinated and unvaccinated students.
In Pennsylvania, if a parent wants to exempt a child from getting a vaccination, he or she is required only to sign a waiver acknowledging a philosophical or religious objection.
Frankel said his legislation will make sure that accurate information gets into people’s hands.
“There is an enormous amount of inaccurate information that’s being pushed out on the internet that is playing on people’s fears and making them question their confidence in traditional health care,” Frankel said.
“That’s playing out most with this vaccination issue. People are opting not to have their children vaccinated because of this misinformation and that’s putting many other families and their children at risk.”
In 2018, Baylor University researchers published a study showing Pennsylvania is among a dozen states that have seen an increase in the number of parents choosing not to vaccinate their children against measles and other infectious diseases.
In May, the first official measles outbreak in Pennsylvania in a decade was recorded, including five cases in Allegheny County.
For Kosierowski, the issue is personal. Her son, Jake, was diagnosed with leukemia at age 4.
“Because of the treatment and chemotherapy that compromised his immune system, it became apparent to me as a mother that having him go to places like school, recess, the park, he was more susceptible to disease if someone had not been vaccinated against measles, whooping cough or chicken pox,” Kosierowski said.
She says the legislation is designed to help parents make informed choices, allowing them to see how many children in a given school are not vaccinated.
“It’s no names; it’s considering HIPPA and the dignity and the privacy of the families and their choices. However, as a parent of a child like mine, I get to see in this school there are, for example, 50 children that are not currently vaccinated against preventable disease.”
It was no coincidence that Frankel and Kosierowski chose to make the announcement at KidsPlus Pediatrics in Greenfield, an organization that says it was the target of a global anti-vaccine attack.
“Our strongest sense as a parent is doing something that might harm our child. And so they play upon that fear, the people that put this misinformation out, and then parents are really left scratching their heads on what to do,” said Dr. Todd Wolynn, CEO of KidsPlus Pediatrics.
“We have families that are being steered, through purposeful misinformation, to being fearful of vaccines and, as a result, they make really poor choices which allow their children to then either become infected or that infection may lead to cancer or death and it’s unnecessary,” Wolynn said.
Frankel said he knows his legislation faces an uphill battle.
“My conversations with the Republican chair of the health committee (state Rep. Kathy Rapp) show that she has agreed to have a committee hearing focused on this issue,” Frankel said.
Frankel said that Rapp has agreed to include in that hearing legislation promoted by Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Cranberry, that would prohibit pediatric practices from denying access to children who have not had the full course of vaccinations.
“The next step for those bills will be determined by committee leadership and committee members when they return in the fall,” said Mike Straub, spokesman for the House Republican Caucus.
Neither Rapp nor Metcalfe responded to requests for comment.
Paul Guggenheimer is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Paul at 724-226-7706 or [email protected].