With incidents of measles being reported and the controversy over vaccinating children back in the spotlight, a state lawmaker has introduced a bill for equal medical rights to parents who choose not to vaccinate.
The legislation known as the Informed Consent Protection Act would support parents in obtaining fair and equal access to medical treatment for their children regardless of the child’s vaccination status.
“As I am sure you are aware, parents sometimes choose to exercise their legal right to delay or decline one or more vaccines for religious, philosophical, or medical reasons,” wrote the bill’s main sponsor, State Rep. Daryl Metcalfe, R-Butler County. “These children are being denied medical care at Pediatric offices, even when presenting with urgent medical issues or needing referrals for special needs speech/physical therapies or needing physical exams to meet school attendance requirements.”
State Rep. Bud Cook, R-West Pike Run Township, is one of the co-sponsors of the bill.
If passed, the bill would preclude a health-care practitioner or facility from: refusing treatment of a child whose parent has chosen to delay or decline one or more vaccines; requiring a parent or guardian to sign a self-incriminating waiver as a condition for continuing to provide medical care; and accepting a financial incentives from an insurance or pharmaceutical company for vaccinating patients or for maintaining a certain rate of vaccinated patients within a medical practice.
“Parents or guardians shouldn’t be punished for making a choice on vaccinations,” Cook said, adding that once both sides of the issue were laid out, it was a common-sense decision for him.
Under the proposal, a first violation of those guidelines would result in a $1,000 fine to a health care facility or practitioner. Additional violations could lead to the revocation or suspension of a facility or medical provider’s license.
Cook said he was unaware that unvaccinated children were denied care until a constituent contacted his office about the issue after a church discussion.
While the controversy over vaccines has reemerged following reported measles cases in Allegheny County, Cook said his constituents in Fayette and Washington counties haven’t voiced their opinions to him about the proposal.
It’s a stark contrast to the hubbub the day the bill was introduced.
“The day we did the media roll out of the proposed legislation, it was the most filled I ever saw the media center with parents and children and grandchildren,” Cook said. “There was a lot of support for it on that day.”
However, other local lawmakers were cautious about committing support to the bill, instead waiting for more information.
State Rep. Ryan Warner, R-Perryopolis, said he has not had the opportunity to study the bill since it was referred to the House Health Committee, of which he’s not a member.
“There are valid concerns on both sides of the issue, as state law does permit parents to decline vaccinations under certain circumstances,” Warner said. “However, the recent spread of measles in various locations across the country has again raised concern about the public health impacts of declining vaccines.”
Warner said if the bill makes it the House floor, he would look forward to the opportunity to learn more about the proposal and the potential impacts.
“When it comes to protecting the health and well being of our children, it’s especially important to thoroughly examine both sides of the issue before taking action,” said State Rep. Matthew Dowling, R-Uniontown, who said he has heard from a number of parents and medical professionals in his district. All of them offered different persepectives and opinions, he said.
“I will take them into consideration if the bill comes before the House for a vote,” he said.
Lawmakers in New York this week voted to eliminate the religoius exemption to vaccanation requirements for school children. The governor signed the bill, which gives parents or guardians of unvaccinated students 30 days after they enter school to show they’ve received the first dose of each required immunization.
Federal officials said the number of measles cases across the U.S. has surpassed 1,000, and is at its highest in 27 years.
California removed personal belief vaccine exemptions for children in both public and private schools in 2015, after a measles outbreak at Disneyland sickened 147 people and spread across the U.S. and into Canada. Maine ended its religious exemption earlier this year.
Mississippi and West Virginia also do not allow religious exemptions.
Once common in the U.S., measles became rare after vaccination campaigns that started in the 1960s. A decade ago, there were fewer than 100 cases a year.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.