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New Arizona Measures Could Result In Fewer Vaccinations, Despite Medical Objections

Nancy Barto
Howard Fischer/Capitol Media Services
Nancy Barto

Arizona lawmakers approved three measures that could result in fewer children being vaccinated, despite objections from doctors and other medical professionals who say the changes could undermine public health.

Republican Rep. Nancy Barto is behind the measures, which were approved in the Health and Human Services Committee on Thursday. She said her bills are not anti-vaccine, rather it’s about a person’s fundamental rights.

Barto allowed those who questioned the medical safety of vaccines two uninterrupted hours to maker their case, including Alan Palmer, a retired chiropractor.

"I want to address the false narrative that we've heard about herd immunity that we've heard about today. This is really a form of fear mongering and manipulation to achieve the goal of full vaccine compliance," said Palmer.

Joseph Seelbaugh, a family practitioner, noted the disparity in the testimony.

"We didn't have a chance to hear from patients and families of those who may have suffered from diseases that could have been prevented," said Seelbaugh. "We don't hear from people that have vulnerable children that may not be able to get vaccinated, who may be at risk for lower vaccination rates, infants that aren't old enough to be vaccinated."

A representative from the Arizona Medical Association said the success of vaccines is reflected in the medical record, saying before there was a measles vaccine, there were 4 million cases of the disease in the United States.

Howard Fischer joined The Show on Friday to discuss the issue.

STEVE GOLDSTEIN: A House Committee has given its OK to three bills that would allow fewer children to be vaccinated in Arizona. This comes as multiple measles outbreaks are happening across the country. Supporters of the measures claim vaccines come with their own risks. Parents have a right to know about. Rep. Nancy Barto is the sponsor of all three bills.

REP. NANCY BARTO: Frankly these are not in my view anti vaccination bills. They are discussions about fundamental individual rights.

GOLDSTEIN: Opponents of the bill say if they become law Arizona's children will be at risk of contracting preventable diseases. Dr Liz McKenna represents more than nine hundred members of the state chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and is against the measures. She spoke at the committee hearing. The bills, she says:

DR. LIZ MCKENNA: ... may confuse and intimidate parents, resulting in a drop in vaccination rates and adversely affect the health of the children of our state.

GOLDSTEIN: Here to tell us more about these bills or what they mean is [Howard] Fischer of Capitol Media Services. Howie, good morning.

HOWARD FISCHER: Good morning, and I hate needles.

GOLDSTEIN: Well, I mean, let's not get into your personal life. I think that might be a little a little bit of a lie. We'll talk about that later — in the post-show. But, Howie, let's talk about how these how these bills got advanced. Because, for a lot of people, these are pretty controversial. Nancy Barto, obviously, has been behind them. What's the dynamic behind these right now?

FISCHER: In essence, they're being proposed as consumer knowledge; right to know; informed consent. And there is something to be said for that. I mean people like to know the risks and benefits of what they're getting. The question becomes, for lack of a better word, TMI — too much information. And at what point do you scare more people off? For example, one of the bill's deals specifically with, well, what's in the vaccines? Well, it's sort of like you know, do you want to watch the sausage being made? And is it designed to scare you? I mean, there are some interesting chemicals in there. There are also something called, you know, human diploid fiber blessed cell cultures, which essentially is a fetal tissue lie. There are animal parts in there, there are other chemicals. And, obviously, the folks who were involved in the vaccine believe that these are necessary. That's part of it. And that if you start telling people that, they're going to say, "Wait a second, I'd rather have the risk of mumps or measles or rubella," or something like that. And so that's been the balance. That's why the doctors are saying, look if you give somebody the full list, plus the full medical insert that goes to doctors, you're going to end up with 54 pages of information. That's not going to be helpful and may just scare people off.

MARK BRODIE: You know, when you talk about too much information, it seems like — at least from some of the physicians perspective — it's too much maybe confusing information giving a lot of long words with lots of letters that maybe don't mean a whole lot, to a lot of regular patients and their families.

FISCHER: Well, that's part of the issue. I mean there was a comparison made that, let's say that when you got on an airplane there was the pilot the door saying, ... "[F]lying is safe but here are the things that can go wrong." You know, there's wind shear. There are things that can go wrong with the instruments, were flying by wire. Well, at what point do you go screaming back through the jetway and saying, "No I think I'll take the train." Which, of course, has its own risk. But we know that goes out in a whole another path. This comes down to a question of balance. I think that there's a universal belief — almost universal belief — that vaccines are a good thing. You know, I remember standing in line for polio shots in elementary school, because kids got polio. You don't hear about polio anymore. And probably we would have gotten those shots anyway, even if we knew that there was some risk from the vaccine. So, it comes down to, at what point are you providing, as you say, too much information? To the point where you're just scaring people off over something that might happen, but the chances of that happening are small, and the benefits are so much greater.

GOLDSTEIN: Howie, here as Arizona as it relates to the kind of exemptions and the number of people who take those exemptions? Are we somewhat unique or are we ahead or behind the curve depending on someone's perspective?

FISCHER: We have more exemption opportunities than most other states. I mean you have a medical exemption, which every state has that, you know, it is contrary to medical advice for you to get this particular vaccine. We have a personal exemption, and we have a religious exemption, and in fact, one of the things they voted to do yesterday was kind of expand that religious exemption to say, right now you have to sign a form that says I understand these are the vaccines. These are the risk to my child. This is what could happen to my child. And now are you going to be able to say,"Well, I'm just going to sign a form saying I personally you know I object to having my child inoculated." Without having to at least look at the risks. And so, you know, Arizona is kind of on the edge on that thing in terms of giving parents more rights.

BRODIE: Howie, any sense of how much support these bills might have moving forward in the Legislature?

FISCHER: Well, what's interesting is that a variant on that religious exemption bill failed in a Senate committee earlier this week. So, there is certainly some division on that. This is a close one. I mean, you've got some issues there of what are the parental rights? And do parents have a right to know? And I think most people do believe that — versus, are you essentially scaring people? I think it's going to be a very close vote when it gets to the House floor, probably as early as next week. And it may end up, on a philosophical basis, as a 31-29 party-line vote.

GOLDSTEIN: And that's Howie Fischer of Capital Media Services. Howie, why don't you go out and enjoy a snow day, on us?

FISCHER: Oh, yeah. Well, it's more more wet here, but I'll go play in the mud.

GOLDSTEIN: Take care.

EDITOR'S NOTE: Dr. Liz McKenna was previously attributed incorrectly. This has been updated to reflect the correct quote.

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KJZZ senior field correspondent Kathy Ritchie has 20 years of experience reporting and writing stories for national and local media outlets — nearly a decade of it has been spent in public media.