Littwin: Facing the possibility of a measles outbreak, the governor wants more data

"Vaccination," by Jason, via Flickr: Creative Commons

This column was significantly updated on Friday, April 26, after Colorado Public Radio reported that Gov. Jared Polis had indicated he wouldn’t sign the current vaccination bill moving through the legislature.

If you’re among the overwhelming majority of Coloradans who believe in medical science, you know that the loud backlash to the oh-so-moderate immunization bill making its way through the legislature is, to use the scientific term, nuts.

And yet, there is a problem with the bill — a considerable problem.

But the problem is not that it’s taking away anyone’s right to get medical advice from the dark fringes of the Internet — because it doesn’t do that at all. The problem — given that we are dead last in the country in the rate of kindergartners being vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella — is that the bill is not nearly as tough as it could be. Or should be. And now the compromise bill seems to be in trouble, too.

Don’t blame the legislature for any of this. Blame the governor, who had already shot down the original key provision of the bill, which was to eliminate the personal-belief exemption as a rationale for not getting your kids vaccinated, as Washington state is in the process of doing and which California and Vermont had done a few years ago. And he is now apparently ready to gut the compromise version of the bill, which its supporters, in their talks with the governor, assumed he would sign.

In the latest version, the key provision is that parents who object to having their children immunized would have fill out a new standardized form and, on the first exemption request for a child, make an in-person trip to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment or their county health agency.

Currently, all a parent has to do is write his/her objection of a piece of paper and hand it into the school the child would attend. The experts recommended putting this inconvenience into the bill because of surprising data that shows stripping away convenience significantly lowers the number of parents seeking an exemption. With Colorado’s last-in-the-nation 89 percent vaccination rate for kindergarteners, the system seems to be in crisis. To gain so-called herd immunity — which stops the spread of measles and other contagious diseases — 95 percent of children need to be immunized.

But Polis apparently isn’t sure we’ve the crisis stage and says we need more data to be sure, even as measles outbreaks across the country are reaching levels not seen since the disease was declared basically eradicated in America in 2000.

“The truth is we need much better data,” Polis told me. “We might be at 89 percent, but we just can’t say that with confidence…I hope it’s not as dire as some believe, but we’ll look at the data.”

And he’s not ready to support the bill, in part, because of the requirement that parents need to make an in-person visit to a health agency the first year they apply for an exemptions.

”Of course we don’t support things like requiring anyone to go in person and things like that,” CPR quoted Polis as saying to the crowd. And asked whether he’d sign the bill, Polis said, “We’re not fully there yet. There’s still of course some changes that are going to be made to the bill.”

House sponsor Kyle Mullica, an emergency room nurse, said he doesn’t plan to make any more changes. And for good reason.

The experts put the exemption models in three easy-to-remember classes — easy, medium or difficult. “The easier the process for opting out, the higher the exemption rate,” says Dr. Sean O’Leary, spokesman for the American Pediatric Association and an expert in infectious disease who teaches at the University of Colorado Medical School. “Believe it or not, this bill would move us from one of the more lenient states to one of the more difficult. The studies show this makes a real difference.”

Studies done in states that have taken the convenience step show that, for some people, convenience can outweigh a belief in phony science, which has given us the thoroughly debunked and persistent link between vaccinations and autism.

When I talked to O’Leary on Wednesday, he said he hopes Polis will sign the bill — “Far better than our status quo,” he says — without any amendments.

But when I asked O’Leary about the California law and whether Colorado should have gone as far, he explained that it was “off the table.” But it was off the table only because Polis had pushed it off. Here’s some California data: Since California ended all non-medical exemptions for the shots in 2015, the immunization rate for Los Angeles County has moved from 90 percent to 95. That’s the kind of jump Colorado needs.

And now this.

The Democratic majorities in both houses were prepared to do considerably more than this bill, but there’s a trend developing here. It was the threat of a Polis veto that watered down the latest bill on ICE and immigration. Remember when Republicans were trying to put the brakes on Democratic legislators? Now Polis is taking a turn at threatening vetoes. He has been actually doing that all term.

Polis is not anti-vaccine, of course. He’s strongly pro-vaccine. His kids are vaccinated. But he also believes that it’s counterproductive to mandate vaccinations. Here’s a sample quote from Polis, who told Hill TV in February: “It’s important that parents vaccinate their children, but you can’t do that at the point of a gun. When the government tries to force parents to do this, it creates distrust in both vaccinations and distrust in government.”

So, Polis is not a science skeptic, but he is apparently a collected-by-schools data skeptic.  Under the bill, it would be collected by state and county health agencies. And whatever the data, Polis says, he is counting on education and outreach to improve the immunization rate.

That’s all well and good, I guess, but whether or not the 89 percent is accurate — and I’m not sure why we shouldn’t think so — we know there are deep pockets in the state with dangerously low immunization rates, and that we have the further problem in Colorado of anti-vaxxers coming from the right as well as from the left, leaving the issue of trying to educate both with presumably the same message.

Is that really the message that Polis wants to leave us with — that everyone should get their kids vaccinated but the problem might not be all that bad and, anyway, parents know best?

Here’s some data that CNN has collected from federal officials. Of the 626 cases of measles that officials had counted as of last week, 72% of those infected were unvaccinated and 18% had unknown vaccination status. And of those 626, 487 were people 19 and younger.

So it’s mostly kids who don’t have a choice in the matter. And it’s parents who are risking not only their own children’s health but the health of kids too young to be vaccinated or those who are otherwise medically at risk to be vaccinated. Somehow, I feel like that’s all the data I need.

And yet, the governor says he can’t confidently cite the 89 percent non-vaccinate rate, which would suggest the possibility of an impending crisis in Colorado. So we’re left to hope there is no significant measles outbreak in Colorado — putting children’s lives at risk — to prove him wrong.

26 COMMENTS

  1. I sent Governor Polis an email as soon as I read your article. As a grandmother of a toddler grandson and another on the way, it is scary that our state has only an 89% vaccination rate for kindergarteners. The toddler has had his first series of vaccinations, but measles can sometimes be contracted before the second series of vaccinations which is years away. As for the one coming, it is virtually impossible to leave your child home for an entire year until he is old enough to get the first measles vaccination. It’s time to get tough with people that put our kids at risk!

  2. I’ve always wondered why so many think the rights of their imaginary friend(s) outweigh the rights of another’s real life child.

  3. California’s number of autistic 3-year olds in special education has jumped 24% since their vaccine law was implemented in August 2016 compared to the latest numbers in Dec 2017. Pull the data up on CA’s DataQuest. Who is going to pay for all of that special education in CO, and why do you think CO parents should have to sacrifice their kids?

    • Unfortunately, this kind of ignorance, assigning scientific causality where there isn’t any evidence of such, is the kind of intellectual dishonesty that gets us measles outbreaks.

      Science is your friend…trust it more than your feelings.

  4. Sooo they’re not “Undocumented ” any more…? They’re documented as pestilence.. Patient one has to be an alien.

    • Hey, while you and Comrade Don are smearing the homeless as drug addicts, why not vilify immigrants as diseased, am I right?

      Czar Trump would be proud of you and Shaggy, his brave for soldiers out here winning hearts and minds.

      WWJH?

      • Did you post this to the wrong column?

        Comrade Don? Maybe the news hasn’t reach your rock yet so here it is:

        “At this point, (President)Trump has won a huge political victory — there’s really no argument there — and Democrats and other anti-Trumpists who thought (the Mueller Report) would somehow lead to Trump’s impeachment and then removal from office have to re-examine all their premises.“

        In case you missed it let me repeat the most important part of the above statement: “At this point, (President)Trump has won a huge political victory…”

  5. “At this point, (President)Trump has won a huge political victory — there’s really no argument there — and Democrats and other anti-Trumpists who thought (the Mueller Report) would somehow lead to Trump’s impeachment and then removal from office have to re-examine all their premises.“

  6. Yeah, you keep posting that, but it doesn’t mean what you think it means, Comrade Don.

    But hey, keep trying to defend the indefensible and maybe Czar Trump will give you the Order of Lenin.

  7. Really? What does it mean?

    Huge…….Political…..Victory.
    Seems pretty straight forward.

    This seems pretty straight forward, too:

    “”Democrats and other anti-Trumpists who thought (the Mueller Report) would somehow lead to Trump’s impeachment and then removal from office have to re-examine all their premises.“

    The over/under on the IQ of the author of the following out-of-touch statement is 50. I’m going under.

    “That’s a question that is going to keep coming up, especially with the midterms and Mueller getting closer by the day…might as well come up with a good excuse…I mean answer.

    Resignation Countdown has officially started….February, 2018”

    I wonder where that countdown is now. Probably right next to the repeal of the Electoral College.

  8. Oh…I assumed you were a little more up to speed…considering everything that’s happened since that was published.

    I can be of assistance. May I suggest another reading assignment? Did you finish Fault Lines?

  9. If you don’t know just say so.

    You said the below statement “doesn’t mean what (I) think it means”

    I’ll ask again, if that’s true then what does it mean?

    “At this point, (President)Trump has won a huge political victory — there’s really no argument there — and Democrats and other anti-Trumpists who thought (the Mueller Report) would somehow lead to Trump’s impeachment and then removal from office have to re-examine all their premises.“

    By the way, what’s the status of the Resignation Countdown or don’t you know that either?

  10. Let’s just say the initial lipstick on the pig didn’t stick.

    No one bought the time share package.

    Only the folks already in the circus tent bought the tickets for the next show.

    We ain’t paying extra for the clearcoat…even if it did come like that from the factory.

    Why am i not surprised that Rush and Hannity haven’t kept the faithful apprised of that inconvenient development.

  11. You’re a troll aren’t you? You have absolutely no clue what you’re talking about.

    Not only do you not know what you’re talking about you’re incapable of admitting Special Counsel Robert Mueller found no evidence of collusion between our president and the Russians to affect the 2016 election.

    You’re a phony!

    And you have a classic case of Dunning-Kruger effect where people tend to overestimate their good points in comparison to others around them, while concurrently underestimating their negative points.

  12. Oh….see….that’s….that’s where your ignorance lies.

    They found collusion, but not conspiracy.

    Again…not surprised that the footsoldiers are being kept in the dark…

    May want to do some reading that doesn’t involve Levin. Or Lenin apparently….

  13. “They found collusion, but not conspiracy.”

    Who is they and please give me some credible source or link saying collusion was found.

    You gotta stop watching MSNBC.

  14. Oh buddy…even Mueller is saying that Bill Barr is full of shit.

    This ain’t exactly breaking news outside of the fox bubble.

    Do you have any clue what Mueller actually found? Have any idea how many criminal investigations continue because of evidence already in the bag?

    No offense, but playing dumb ain’t a good look.

  15. “Oh buddy…even Mueller is saying that Bill Barr is full of shit.”

    Is that the same Mueller who found no collusion? But here’s the good news: You and Bill Barr have something in common!

    And you still can’t find a source saying Mueller found collusion because there is none, zero, zip, nada.

    Do you have a clue what Mueller actually found? Of course you don’t!

    You know what else ain’t a good look? Spouting unsubstantiated harebrained (and I’m being generous) theories.

    Don’t forget you owe me an explanation of what this actually means.

    “At this point, (President)Trump has won a huge political victory — there’s really no argument there — and Democrats and other anti-Trumpists who thought (the Mueller Report) would somehow lead to Trump’s impeachment and then removal from office have to re-examine all their premises.“

    “A summary of the special counsel’s investigation delivered to lawmakers Sunday said unequivocally that neither Trump nor his campaign conspired with Russian efforts to sway the election that put him in office.” – USA Today

    “The Justice Department said Sunday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation did not find evidence that President Donald Trump’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller also investigated whether Trump obstructed justice but did not come to a definitive answer.” – PBS

  16. Lay of the Fox man. Again….No conspiracy doesn’t mean no collusion.

    This has been written about extensively and with many examples.

    Willful ignorance isn’t a valid choice you should be making in the days of Google. You just have to not click on The Drudge Report…

  17. “Again….No conspiracy doesn’t mean no collusion.”

    Again…….No conspiracy doesn’t mean there was collusion and all I want is one example of someone who says Mueller found that there was collusion. Just one. You can’t come up with one because there isn’t one. If there was MSNBC would be screaming it 24/7 and impeachment proceedings would have already started.

    You seem to lack the ability to accept facts, no matter how inconvenient or at odds with your current viewpoint. There was no collusion.

    Don’t forget you owe me an explanation of what this actually means.

    “At this point, (President)Trump has won a huge political victory — there’s really no argument there — and Democrats and other anti-Trumpists who thought (the Mueller Report) would somehow lead to Trump’s impeachment and then removal from office have to re-examine all their premises.“

    “A summary of the special counsel’s investigation delivered to lawmakers Sunday said unequivocally that neither Trump nor his campaign conspired with Russian efforts to sway the election that put him in office.” – USA Today

    “The Justice Department said Sunday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation did not find evidence that President Donald Trump’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller also investigated whether Trump obstructed justice but did not come to a definitive answer.” – PBS

  18. You and Barr seem to be having similar issues with within ignorance….

    If you’re asking for another readying assignment I’ll give you one, but did you finish the last one?

  19. As you said earlier :“Oh buddy…even Mueller is saying that Bill Barr is full of shit.”

    So you have far, far more in common with Barr.

    You don’t seem to able to follow even the simplest instructions so I guess I’ll have to repeat it and hope for the best which in your case isn’t really the best:

    Again…….No conspiracy doesn’t mean there was collusion and all I want is one example of someone who says Mueller found that there was collusion. JUST ONE!!!! You won’t be able to because there isn’t one. If there was MSNBC would be screaming it 24/7 and impeachment proceedings would have already started.

    You might want to read this from the New York Times: “The investigation led by Robert S. Mueller III found no evidence that President Trump or any of his aides coordinated with the Russian government’s 2016 election interference, according to a summary of the special counsel’s key findings made public on Sunday by Attorney General William P. Barr. Still, the release of the findings was a significant political victory for Mr. Trump and lifted a cloud that has hung over his presidency since before he took the oath of office.” – New York Times

    To recap, no collusion.

    You seem to lack the ability to accept facts, no matter how inconvenient or at odds with your current viewpoint. There was no collusion.

    Don’t forget you owe me an explanation of what this actually means.

    “At this point, (President)Trump has won a huge political victory — there’s really no argument there — and Democrats and other anti-Trumpists who thought (the Mueller Report) would somehow lead to Trump’s impeachment and then removal from office have to re-examine all their premises.“

    “A summary of the special counsel’s investigation delivered to lawmakers Sunday said unequivocally that neither Trump nor his campaign conspired with Russian efforts to sway the election that put him in office.” – USA Today

    “The Justice Department said Sunday that special counsel Robert Mueller’s investigation did not find evidence that President Donald Trump’s campaign “conspired or coordinated” with Russia to influence the 2016 presidential election. Mueller also investigated whether Trump obstructed justice but did not come to a definitive answer.” – PBS

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