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Another piece of legislation addressing vaccines in Iowa was entertained in subcommittee on Feb. 11. The bill prohibits directors of a school board and authorities in charge of an accredited nonpublic school from permitting the administration of vaccines to a student on school premises or through a school-sponsored vaccination effort unless a student’s parent or guardian provides prior written authorization for each vaccine administered.

Melissa Walker with the Department of Education provided some vaccination information statements, which are supposed to be provided to parents prior to the vaccinations being administered. She said there are already laws that require consent to be given prior to giving a vaccine.

Courtney Collier spoke in support of the bill.

“I have children in public schools and I’m aware of situations where what she just shared did not take place,” Collier said. “Parents have to sign a consent form and have a witness at the doctor for each vaccine, it should be the same at school.”

Collier said the bill is common sense to make sure parents’ rights are maintained.

Phil Jeneary with the Iowa Association of School Boards said the group doesn’t have a concern with parental consent, but said it would be a burdensome regulation to get materials that would be required. The cost and distribution to all students would be a “pretty big cost” in large, urban districts. And for rural districts that are barely scraping by, it would take money out of the classroom for students.

Brei Johnson with Informed Choice Iowa said the group supports the bill.

“We feel that the schools are doing a good job with a lot of these things, but our concern is that it’s not reflecting what they’re already doing in Iowa code,” she said. “We feel it’d be best for Iowa law to also just support and reinforce what I guess has already been laid out in federal law to require. We just feel that just where ever these things might happen, parents should have the first say and have the ability to opt-out.”

Jim Obradovich representing nurses and school nurses asked where students are being vaccinated without parental permission.

Bethany Steichen had four articles from the last six months. It hasn’t happened in Iowa, but on Jan. 23, 2020, a 16-year old in Chicago was given the HPV vaccine.

Her biggest concern came from the World Health Organization putting out a consent document a few months ago that went over different types of consent. The physical presence of a child with or without a parent at the vaccination site could imply consent, it said.

“I shouldn’t have to keep my kid out of school just to keep them from getting vaccinated,” she said.

The mother of that female student in Chicago is suing the school district. there were two incidents in the country where students were supposed to be given a flu shot or a TB test and they were given insulin instead.

“That’s not safe. It’s very scary and there needs to be written consent,” she said.

In October of last year, a 6-year old was given the flu vaccine without consent. He was mixed up with another child who wasn’t even in his class. And a Bronx mother said her son was given the HPV vaccine without permission.

“This is becoming a very big issue across the country and I fully support this bill,” Steichen said.

Susan Daemen with the Iowa Advance Nurse Practitioners said we all believe parents should give permission, but we have to look out for all the children in the school.

“We have the data that shows, the science that shows vaccinations do work,” she said. “For that reason, we don’t support anything that might limit the ability for students to have vaccinations. I’m thankful that nothing bad has happened in Iowa.”

Lindsay Maher said the bill won’t limit the availability of vaccinations at school.

“What it is doing is making sure that parental consent is required before they receive them,” she said.

She added the very last section of the law referenced in terms of consent does not talk about written consent or parental consent.

Amy Campbell with the Iowa Primary Care Association asked if school-based clinics would be allowed in afternoon hours that are entirely optional.

“As I read this, it wouldn’t include anybody else like a Public Health Department or a community provider coming in and providing services in the community,” she said. “You’re only referencing a nurse or a school employee, so I don’t understand whether that would inhibit those clinics. I don’t think this is a problem in Iowa. I think we comply with federal law, but I also want to make sure you understood sometimes schools work with local providers to do health check.”

Katie Adrian said if it’s already required at a federal level, what is the issue with implementing it at the state level.

“It shouldn’t be a problem to follow through with our state law language,” she said. “Based off of feedback that’s been stated against this, it sounds like we’re already doing this. But it sounds like the issue lies with favoring convenience over safety, which is my concern as a parent. I shouldn’t have to keep my children home from school if there is going to be any type of vaccinations occurring on school grounds. Their education should take precedence over any supplemental — I fully support this bill.”

Amy McCoy with the Iowa Department of Public Health said there’s a very real cost to providing additional information to parents in printed format.

One suggestion was adding that information to the form parents receive asking for consent for kids to receive Tylenol.

Threase Harms said vaccines aren’t provided in schools. And, she added, saying vaccinations are not important goes in a direction that isn’t on the same page of keeping everyone in schools safe.

Chaney Yates with Blank Children’s Hospital said some schools do have school-based health centers within schools in Iowa, especially alternative schools.

“Those school-based health centers are trying to improve access for children and families to all types of health services,” she said. “My concern is does this bill unintentionally create barriers and not necessarily for consent.”

Yates pushed back on written consent.

“We have issues sometimes where parents cannot physically be accessed easily,” she said. “I would hate to see a child miss their opportunity to be vaccinated even if we could contact a parent and have verbal permission over the phone.”

Erica expressed frustration with the opposition to the bill.

“What I’m hearing over and over again from the people who are supposed to be protecting my children is that money is a problem for you guys and you don’t want to spend money to protect children,” she said. “That’s very upsetting from these agencies that are supposed to be taking care of me and my family. And you’re showing me I can’t trust you.”

She said parents have to sign off on Tylenol and other things.

“All you care about is paying for paper. That just really upsets me,” she said. “I’m really disappointed in my government and in my appointed officials today. I’m just going to be honest. I think we need to have this bill. I think it’s important because obviously we can’t trust you guys. We need to have something to show that hey, this his going on because our children aren’t worth it to you.”

Daemen said she takes offense to that comment.

“One thing we all agree on in this room in that we all want what’s best for our children,” she said. “Pediatric nurse practitioners want to make sure that children can be vaccinated because they are healthier because of the vaccination. While you all should have the right, if you don’t want to have your child vaccinated, and we have something in place that allows you to get that permission or deny that, that’s what we should get at. But we shouldn’t put all the other children, my child, everyone else’s child in position of not being able to be vaccinated. I don’t think that’s what you’re trying to do.”

Sonya Swan said vaccine rights are shrinking around the nation.

“I think there is a concern we need to be a little more proactive in making sure we protect parents,” Swan said. “At some point, I think we have to get some win-win situations where this side of parents feel comfortable and this side of public health and public schools feel comfortable. Nothing is being limited for people who really want vaccines.”

Sen. Jackie Smith noted that it seems a federal law is already in place to address the concern.

“I don’t believe we’re providing immunizations in school except maybe very rarely in special school settings,” she said. “I’m not going to move this on. We already have protections in place.”

Sen. Mark Segebart said Iowa often codifies into law what the federal government has to make it appropriate for Iowa.

“I think in this case it would be a good thing,” Segebart said.

Guth signed the bill out of subcommittee.

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Jacob Hall

Author: Jacob Hall