Senator pushes bill on vaccine education

By:  Sarah Ferris
The Hill

Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) is leading an effort to require more parents to learn the risks of not vaccinating their children if they decide to seek religious or personal exemptions.

Murphy, who is a member of the Senate health committee, announced legislation Friday that he said would ask states to make it tougher for parents to refuse vaccinations for diseases like the measles.

Under the bill, states would be told to educate parents of the “importance of vaccinations” or to require doctors visits before parents can seek non-medical exemptions for their children. States that don’t comply would lose 5 percent of their federal vaccination budgets.

“The irony is that if you get a medical exemption, you actually have to visit your doctor, and get your doctor to fill out a form. But if you want a philosophical or religious exemption, all you have to do is simply sign your name,” Murphy said at a speech Friday at the Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.

He introduced the legislation alongside State Sen. Matt Ritter, who is working to tighten the state’s vaccine laws through the Hartford legislature.

The educational outreach would help counteract the misinformation stemming from “really bad science” that has some parents believing that vaccines are linked to autism, Murphy said.

But he stressed that the legislation wouldn’t be “heavy-handed,” adding that the bill would “give incentives” and create guidelines but not force states to completely eliminate non-medical exemptions.

Fears about the growing “anti-vaccination” movement have swelled nationwide after more than 100 people — mostly unvaccinated — contracted the measles in the last several months. Last year marked the highest number of measles cases in more than a decade, with health officials warning of a resurgence of the potentially fatal disease.

“We need to nip this bad science in the bud right now before it gets too late. Because the trend lines, unfortunately, are working in the wrong direction,” he said.