Thanks to Jared Polis and the state legislature, Colorado finally has statewide full-day kindergarten, which would be something to celebrate as the legislative session closes — if, that is, we didn’t know that in the midst of a national measles crisis, something like 11% of those full-day kindergarteners would go to school without being vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella.
Facing this crisis, the Democratic-controlled legislature did absolutely nothing. It couldn’t get a vaccine bill passed, and the Democratic governor, who had already forced legislators to water down the bill, then announced near the end of the session that he wouldn’t sign the bill anyway without more changes. This failure here goes directly to the blue-sneakered feet of Polis.
Some will blame the Colorado GOP slowdown for the logjam at the end — which they proudly claim credit for — by using rules to slow down legislation, in sort of the way that our oft-maligned Congress does. But don’t let that fool you. The House passed the bill. The Senate carved out time for debate. And then, in some apparent horse-trading to get other bills passed, the remnants of the bill would lie somewhere abandoned on the Senate floor.
You can say that that far more than legislation was abandoned. So were the kids and others who are newly vulnerable to a disease that was supposedly eradicated in America in 2000 until the anti-vaxxer-led movement — and its legislative enablers — brought back measles disease to its highest rate in 19 years. In what is clearly an urgent situation in Colorado and elsewhere — but especially in Colorado — our leaders showed just what lack of urgency looks like.
And so, on the last day of the legislative session, Polis was touting all that he and the Democrats, who control both houses of the legislature, had accomplished. And they had more than a few things to brag about.
But as Dems celebrated, I admit I was distracted by my Twitter feed and the photo of a 5-month-old Alabama baby, Emma Peine, with red dots covering her body. She was the first confirmed case of measles in Alabama this year. No one knows how she got this most contagious disease, and Alabama health experts are worried there must be others who are carrying it.
Baby Emma was not vaccinated, of course, because children don’t get the first dose of the vaccine until after their 1st birthday. That made her vulnerable. The outbreaks across the country — and around the world, for that matter, in much greater numbers — leave her and those who are medically unable to take the vaccine at great risk.
Baby Emma’s mother, Audrey Peine, was angry that her daughter got measles and wrote this in a post on Facebook (which she has since changed to private): “She got sick because of the negligence of other parents who choose not to vaccinate their children. She got sick because the measles is on the rise due to carelessness of other mothers. Read the statistics. This disease was not something to worry about a few years ago. Now my daughter has it. Like the other mother who’s five-month-old was diagnosed in California, I feel like my community failed us.”
She was attacked by the anti-vaxxers, of course, who questioned whether Emma had the disease and, of course, brought in the long-debunked vaccination links to autism. That’s why she took the post private.
In staring at the photo and remembering a time when kids, like myself, routinely got measles and other sometimes-deadly childhood diseases, all I could think about was the likelihood of the disease returning to Colorado and the real chance, given our sad 50th-in-the-nation vaccination rate, of a genuine New York-style or California-style outbreak.
And upon seeing the photo of baby Emma, I tweeted that if “this happens to a 5-month-old (too young to be vaccinated) in CO, be sure to thank anti-vaxxers, the state Senate, which couldn’t find the time to counter them, and @GovofCO (Polis’s Twitter name), who seems to think a parent’s right to ignore science trumps this baby’s right not to get measles.”
Polis is not an anti-vaxxer. He’s a pro-science vaxxer who vaccinates his kids and says he’ll pursue education as a way to improve the state’s vaccination rates. But when I last talked to Polis about this, he was skeptical about the 11% number provided by the CDC and said we needed “better data.” He has also said that it was counterproductive to force parents to vaccinate their children “at the point of a gun,” which, he said, would only leave them more mistrustful of government and vaccines. And Polis said the bill — which would make it harder to get an exemption for your child by forcing parents in their first year of applying for an exemption to visit a county health center and fill out a form — could be a burden for rural parents.
The experts say the convenience factor works, and that forcing people to register at a county health agency rather than just write a note to drop off at a school means that a significant number will skip the process altogether. But no one thinks it works as well as what, say, California has done, which is to do away with all exemptions that aren’t medically based. In other words, look at this as an issue of medical science, not an issue of rumor. But the way the Colorado bill would have worked — because of insistence from Polis’s negotiators — parents were free to take their medical advice from the dark fringes of the Internet.
As everyone probably knows by now, there is something called herd immunity. According to the science, if 95% of a community is vaccinated, that serves to protect the whole community from an outbreak. Colorado’s 89% for kindergarteners doesn’t get us there. When California passed its 2015 law, removing personal belief and religious exemptions, the rate in Los Angeles County jumped from 90% to 95%. Rep. Kyle Mullica, an ER nurse from Northglenn, was the original sponsor of the bill. He wanted to eliminate “personal belief” as a vaccine exemption, but Polis wouldn’t go there.
Personal belief not only can put your own child at risk — and here come the vaccines-cause-autism-because-we-believe-in-bogus-science crowd — but also every other unvaccinated person. What’s the line that goes something like your right to swing your arms ends where my right not to get punched in the nose begins? I don’t think parents should have the right, in any case, to endanger their own kids, but they certainly shouldn’t have the right to endanger my grandkids, one of whom is only 9 months old.