//Gathered at the Colorado State Capitol to hear Robert F Kennedy Jr. and others speak, several anti-vax groups rallied against the proposed School Immunization Entry bill on Jun 7, 2020. Photo by Esteban Fernandez | firstname.lastname@example.org
A rare Sunday session to advance the School Entry Immunization bill at the Colorado State Legislature prompted anti-vaccine groups to come out in protest on June 7.
The bill, also known as SB 163, does a few things. It defines a “nonmedical exemption” to immunization as any exemption based upon either a religious or personal belief. Further, the bill requires the Department of Public Health and Environment to create exemption forms and develop a submission process for anyone seeking an exemption to access. Previously, requests for an exemption could be submitted on napkins or sticky notes.
Also, the state must annually evaluate immunization practices under the proposed law. It sets a goal of achieving a 95% immunization rate of the student population per school. Medical practitioners are required to send immunization, medical and nonmedical exemption data to an immunization tracking program. However, the bill states there is no regulatory sanction on medical professionals for noncompliance.
Opponents at the rally attacked the bill as government overreach. Several protesters claimed that the bill forced Colorado residents to get immunized.
“Government should not be telling parents how they should be providing medical procedures to their children,” said Colorado House Rep. Tim Geitner. Geitner is a Republican representing Colorado House District 19. He was one of the speakers at the protest.
The bill itself makes no mention of forced immunizations throughout its text.
Speakers at the event cited a wide array of support from several different interests, including Democrats and Republicans. Erik Underwood, a former Democratic candidate for Colorado’s U.S. Senate seat, even invoked the Black Lives Matter movement.
“We need people from the black community to stand up against social injustice,” he said. “There’s evidence that vaccines hurt black communities at disparate rates.”
One guest of honor was Robert Kennedy Jr.
Kennedy assailed pharmaceutical companies for making billions of dollars off of vaccines. He accused pharmaceuticals of creating customers for life by administering vaccines that he claims have severe side effects on children. He also repeated several assertions that have been debunked repeatedly by medical professionals.
Among the claims he made were those that vaccines were responsible for autoimmune diseases. Numerous scientific studies to date have not shown consistently that vaccines cause autoimmune diseases. Kennedy also linked today’s autism diagnosis rates to vaccines. However, since the diagnosis was first introduced 75 years ago, the definition and criteria has changed. Autism wasn’t in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders until 1980. Throughout the late 80s to today, the criteria has been expanded several times. Awareness around the condition has also increased, leading to more parents testing their children. All these factors combine to explain why Autism has a greater prevalence than it did during Kennedy’s youth. Further, the study which was the originator of this claim was later revealed to be fraudulent. Andrew Wakefield, the author, was discredited and struck from the medical register in the U.K.
Framing the debate around vaccination as a medical rights issue, detractors saw the law as an encroachment on their individual rights as American Citizens.
“If we lose our ground in our schools, we will lose ground as a nation,” said Saundra Larsen, one of the protesters at the event. Larsen was referring to government-mandated immunization, which SB 163 does not call for. “I don’t think anyone should lose the right to return to their jobs, travel, or renew their driver’s license.”