Politics

GOP lawmaker aims to block vaccine waiver bill: 'This is a choice that should be made by a parent'

Bill designed to help prevent measles spreading

GOP lawmaker aims to block vaccine waiver bill: 'This is a choice that should be made by a parent'

MADISON, Wis. - A Republican state lawmaker said he likes Wisconsin's vaccinations law as it currently is, and he does not support a bill that would get rid of the personal conviction waiver for vaccinations.

"We've turned far too much responsibility that parents ought to have over to other governing authorities, and this one is just going a step too far," Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt told News 3 Now.

Thiesfeldt, a Republican from Fond du Lac, called it a "hallmark" of medical practice in the U.S. that people get to make their own medical decisions and parents get to make medical decisions for their children.

"This is a choice that should be made by a parent. I believe in parental rights and parental responsibilities, and the care and concern of their child is one of the foremost things that should be on a parent's plate," he said.

The bill proposed by Rep. Gordon Hintz would get rid of the personal conviction waiver, but parents could still request waivers for medical or religious reasons. Hintz's bill has bipartisan support and is backed by medical groups like the Wisconsin Medical Society and the Wisconsin chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Data from the Wisconsin Department of Health Services shows the percentage of students with a personal conviction waiver increased from 1.2 percent during the 1997-1998 school year to 4.6 percent during the 2018-2019 school year. The percentages of students with religious and medical waivers have remained relatively constant.

The legislation is designed as a preventative measure as more than 700 cases of the measles have been confirmed in 23 states in 2019. No cases have been reported in Wisconsin. 

Health officials recommend getting vaccinations not just for people to protect themselves but to protect people who cannot get vaccinated.

"We're going to get an increase in the number of kids vaccinated one of two ways -- We're either going to pass this bill or we're going to have a measles outbreak," said Hintz, a Democrat from Oshkosh.

Thiesfeldt said he and his children are vaccinated and he encourages other families to get vaccinated, as well.

Thiesfeldt is a key state legislator in the debate because he chairs the state's education committee. It is unclear whether the bill would come through his committee, but if it does, he called its odds of passing "not very strong."

"My primary responsibility is to my four children, and if I think that getting a certain type of vaccination is not a good idea for their health, present or future, I ought to have a right to say 'no' to that," Thiesfeldt said.

"Wisconsin is in the minority of states that have this opt-out that is increasingly being utilized and that is undermining the protections for our children and vulnerable citizens," Hintz said, who first proposed the bill in 2016.

The bill has not yet been scheduled for a public hearing. Republican Assembly Speaker Robin Vos would make that determination, but could not be reached for comment about whether the bill would go to Thiesfeldt's committee.

To find out what percentages of children in your child's school or school district that have each type of vaccination waiver, you can use this interactive map from the state's Department of Health Services.

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