Hickenlooper says he’s still pushing fix at Capitol for state’s low vaccination rates

Governor John Hickenlooper is continuing to push legislative leaders in the state House and Senate this session to address Colorado’s low-vaccination rates, he said in an interview with Colorado Public radio to air Wednesday.

“Colorado is a kind of beacon of western ethics and there’s a great respect for personal freedom here,” he told Colorado Matters host Ryan Warner. “I think there’s a way to respect that personal freedom and allow people some flexibility in terms of opting out for specific cases.

“I mean, right now, I think it’s almost a reflex opt out. We have to ask a few more question before somebody opts out and make it so that they’re aware that, by opting out of a vaccination, the risk they’re creating — not just for their own child but for their neighbors’.”

This year’s legislative session is moving fast into its last weeks, however, and leadership is split — Democrats control the House and Republicans control the Senate — making negotiations complicated and progress hard to predict. Warner asked if the governor planned to “lead the charge” to tighten parental vaccination opt-out policies.

“I’m not sure there’s a ‘charge,'” said Hickenlooper. “But we’re certainly having talks with legislators and have talked with leaders in both the Senate and the House.”

Warner, citing reporting by the Colorado Independent, asked if Hickenlooper had considered launching a public education campaign to help drum up popular support for legislative action.

“Of course, if I was asked,” he said.

In the interview, the governor sounds a note simultaneously determined and tentative, as if he fears raising expectations.

But he sounds not at all tentative when speaking about his own experience with preventable child illness. He told Warner about watching his young son fall ill with whooping cough, a disease high vaccination rates can all but eliminate.

“It is very disconcerting to know that your child has an illness because your neighbor didn’t get a vaccination that, scientifically, is held to be without question a very positive benefit.

“It was an ordeal that I don’t even like to think about,” he said. “He was at Children’s Hospital… We stayed up one long night with him. He was coughing so much he couldn’t breathe. His blood oxygen level would drop down to below 90 percent and in some cases below 80 percent till we could get the oxygen mask on him…

“Having stayed up all night watching my son literally turn blue in front of my eyes, that’s not an image that ever gets far from my consciousness.”

Colorado Matters airs at 10 a.m. and 7 p.m. on weekdays.