A pair of bills in the Iowa Senate dealing with vaccinations drew a crowd that lined the hallways outside Room 315 on Tuesday. Despite the incredible turnout for supporters of Senate File 238 and Senate File 239.
The reason for the turnout, according to Shanda Burke, is simple.
“People are going to fight for their kids,” said Burke, president of Informed Choice of Iowa. “The mamma bear comes out, papa bear comes out. People want to be able to make the choices for our own children. Our children belong to us, not the state.”
Republican Sen. Dennis Guth filed both bills.
“Oh yeah, I was really impressed,” Guth said. “I don’t know how many people are packed inside of 315 right now, I’m going to guess 80-100. I’ve counted 81 people standing outside. A lot of kids are here, very little kids too.”
Guth said nearly a decade ago he encountered a family of a child who had a severe injury from a vaccination while camping.
“I began looking into that, I had never heard of that before,” Guth said. “I found out there are a lot of children and even adults who are suffering from injuries from vaccines. I did not realize that people die from vaccinations as well.”
Guth spoke from the Senate floor last week about the issue and has since received plenty of feedback.
“Probably 80 percent of it would be in favor of it. I’ve had doctors on both sides of the issue,” Guth said. “People in the medical industry, if they’re retired, they’re willing to speak out. If they’re not retired they say ‘Senator, please don’t put a target on my back by saying something that would incriminate me.'”
One of the bills is an exemption bill. Guth said it changes the language in the medical exemptions. Currently a medical exemption is given when a doctor says someone would be injured if they receive a vaccine.
“Very few physicians are willing to say — 100 percent, you will be injured,” Guth said. “We’d change would be to could be. The second part of that bill says that you don’t have to claim a religious exemption, you just have to have a philosophical exemption saying I don’t think this is the right thing for my kids and I don’t want to have my kids vaccinated. Nine other states, maybe more, already have philosophical exemptions.”
Republican Rep. Jeff Shipley filed a bill in the House that requires a health professional who administers vaccines to provide certain information to a person, or the person’s parent or legal guardian. He made an appearance at the Senate subcommittee as well.
“What I saw was close to 100 passionate people who packed a room, who took time out of their day to travel to the Capitol to make sure their voice was heard loud and clear by the legislators,” Shipley said. “To me that’s the type of political intensity we have to pay attention to.”
Shipley pointed to his constituents in his district as the reason he’s involved in the issue.
“Serving my constituents at home is what’s most important to me,” he said. “I talked to plenty of mothers who have very personal stories and yeah, I think there’s enough anecdotal data and enough actual data to dig into it. I don’t think there’s any easy answer, it’s a very complicated topic. Any subject of public health is very sensitive. To pretend it’s not even a problem, I think you’re just putting your head in the sand.”
Some vaccines, Guth said, are not as effective as what they are sold as.
“I just think it’s time to look at the whole system,” he said. “I’d like to be able to test individuals before they’re vaccinated. Some DNA combinations have been found to be more susceptible to vaccine injury than others, I’d like to be able to change policies, change vaccines perhaps, so those people don’t have that much higher risk of injury.”
Opponents of the bill expressed concerns and defended the idea of herd immunity.
“It’s an idea that if 93-95 percent of the population is vaccinated then the small population that can’t be vaccinated will be immune,” Burke said. “No county in Iowa has a vaccination rate of over 90 percent. Only a couple are in the 80s, most are in the high-70s. That doesn’t take into account all the adults. You’re probably not up to date. Vaccine schedules have changed. In 1983 it was 10 and it’s 72 now.”
For those undecided on the issue or skeptical of Informed Choice of Iowa’s motivation, Burke has a simple request.
“Read a vaccine insert,” she said. “They say right on them this has never been tested if it causes cancer or impairs fertility. There are listed side effects. People have died from vaccines. It’s not super common, but if it happens to you, I can guarantee it’s going to matter. Each parent and each individual deserves the right to weigh those risks and benefits and make a truly informed choice.”
Seeing the bills fail was not a surprise, Guth said.
“I’m encouraged by all the support that has shown up here,” he said. “I have my doubts whether this will get very far because there’s too many medical professionals that are on the committee that just want to protect what the medical profession has always put out before. They’re all good people, and I don’t want to knock any of them, I just think it’s something we should back up and check more thoroughly.
“There really is no research on most vaccines about the safety of them. Our flu vaccines need to be developed so quickly to get the right one that there is no chance for any testing beforehand. We’re concerned about those things.”
While the bills didn’t clear their first hurdle, the conversation is undoubtedly underway in Iowa.
“It’s a controversial issue, but I don’t think we should back away from an issue just because it’s controversial,” Guth said. “I need to be open-minded to change my mind and I those who oppose this bill also need to be open-minded. We need to look at the real facts. Sometimes the agencies we think are giving us the real facts we find out later have connections with Big Pharma or whatever where their facts may be tainted. We just need to be careful that we get the whole story.”
Shipley, who is in his first term in the Iowa House, said the presence was the largest he’s seen for a subcommittee.
“That’s when you know it’s important,” he said. “When people come out and care, I think politicians really need to pay attention.”
He said he was impressed at Informed Choice of Iowa’s ability to rally supporters and stand up for the issue despite public criticism.
“Especially with all the harassment and hate they just get,” he said. “I’ve seen the nasty things said about these people, even from fellow legislators. The comments from the public — frankly it really makes me sad that’s the kind of level of public discourse these days. Thankfully Informed Choice people are taking the high road, staying positive and not down in the muck with the rest of it. They’re setting a really example for the rest of Iowa.”
While the result of the subcommittees was disappointing, Burke said progress was made.
“It didn’t go how we wanted, but we aren’t entirely surprised at the outcome,” she said. “But we’ve opened up a dialogue. Now there’s an opportunity for more educating and people are aware that Iowans are concerned about this issue and a group exists to help fight for our rights.”
“Message us,” she said. “We’re more than willing to find the research and send it to you and help educate you. That’s our goal — to help people make informed choices.”