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Representative Sharon Steckman (D-Mason City) shared this nugget in her legislative newsletter:

CHILDHOOD VACCINATION CAMPAIGN: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and changes to routine health care, there has been a 55.5% decrease in non-influenza vaccinations for children ages 4-18 during March and April of this year compared to the same time in 2019. Due to this decline, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) is promoting the importance of childhood vaccinations. Up-to-date vaccinations are a requirement for school entry, so parents should check with their child’s health care provider to make sure they have the required vaccinations.  To view more information about childhood vaccinations, please visit: https://idph.iowa.gov/immtb/immunization/laws?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

The line that stands out there is this one — “Up-to-date vaccinations are a requirement for school entry.”

That isn’t true. There are medical as well as religious exemptions allowed in Iowa law.

In mid-May, the Iowa Department of Public Health put out a document that states medical and religious exemptions still apply even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Iowa law states that medical and religious exemptions under the rule do NOT apply in times of emergency or epidemic as determined by the state board of health and declared by the director of public health.

“It is the Department’s position this code section is applicable only if the emergency or epidemic results from an outbreak of a vaccine-preventable disease and that Iowa Immunization Administrative Code 7.3(3) would therefore not apply to the COVID-19 pandemic. Hence school districts should continue, even during the COVID-19 outbreak, to recognize medial and religious exemptions if a student satisfies the requirements for the exemption.”

That mid-May document said children will need a valid Iowa Department of Public Health Certificate of Immunization, Provisional Certificate of Immunization or Certificate of Immunization Exemption.

I have two observations.

The first, at one of the many subcommittee meetings held on vaccines during this past legislative session, public health officials assured lawmakers and others concerned that parents are always informed on medical and religious exemptions for vaccinations. Yet that isn’t happening in this email being sent by Iowa House Democrats.

Second, the Iowa Department of Public Health says religious and medical exemptions won’t be suspended because the COVID epidemic isn’t involving a vaccine-preventable disease. Well, the obvious question is what happens when a COVID vaccine is developed?

Will the religious and medical exemptions still apply? Or will the government have the power to force vaccinations?

The Iowa Standard reached out to Rep. Steckman and asked why information about medical and religious exemptions were left out of the newsletter.

She simply said if Iowans clicked the link included in the newsletter, the information was there.

Again, this is what her newsletter said:

CHILDHOOD VACCINATION CAMPAIGN: Due to the COVID-19 pandemic and changes to routine health care, there has been a 55.5% decrease in non-influenza vaccinations for children ages 4-18 during March and April of this year compared to the same time in 2019.  Due to this decline, the Iowa Department of Public Health (IDPH) is promoting the importance of childhood vaccinations. Up-to-date vaccinations are a requirement for school entry, so parents should check with their child’s health care provider to make sure they have the required vaccinations.  To view more information about childhood vaccinations, please visit: https://idph.iowa.gov/immtb/immunization/laws?utm_medium=email&utm_source=govdelivery

Jacob Hall

Author: Jacob Hall