Measles

In this file photo, certified medical assistant Ellie Marimontes holds a measles vaccine at St. Luke’s Pediatrics Clinic in Twin Falls.

Judging from the public comment the Department of Health and Welfare has received, immunization requirements and a couple of rules related to medical testing for newborns and child protective services could be hot topics as conversations occur around Idaho.

The vaccine conversations are taking place because the Legislature usually renews administrative rules, and the rules governing every other state agency, in an omnibus bill passed at the end of the legislative session. This year, though, lawmakers didn’t pass such a bill due to a deadlock between House and Senate Republicans over whether to make some changes to the rules review process. As a result, the rules all would have expired on July 1. Gov. Brad Little cut 139 chapters of agency rules, or 19 percent of the total, many of them duplicative or obsolete, and renewed the rest as temporary rules.

Idaho requires a list of immunizations for schoolchildren, although parents are allowed to opt out of vaccinating their children for any reason, and Idaho has a lower vaccination rate than most states. The group Health Freedom Idaho and many of the Legislature’s more conservative Republican lawmakers have been pushing to reduce immunization requirements and make it easier for parents to opt out. A bill that would have required schools to notify parents of their right to opt out of vaccinating their children passed the House this year but never got a hearing in the Senate.

Of the 28 emails sent to the health department that argue against immunization rules, most cited a belief that the government has no business being involved in vaccination or mandating a medical procedure. Another 62 emails were in favor of keeping the current requirements.

“Nothing should ever be mandated when it comes to anything pertaining to the body,” wrote Jill Watts of Nampa. “One’s own bodily autonomy is one of the fundamental basic God-given rights and should not be regulated at any level. These rules are not emergency and Idaho is a free republic and the people do not wish to mandate these things according to federal recommendations from agencies with clear conflicts of interest and where the state (and) local agencies clearly benefit with budget perks and funding benefits.”

Many of the pro-vaccination writers blamed Idaho’s low immunization rate for recent outbreaks of measles and Hepatitis A.

“Please protect Idaho’s children from misinformed persons who do not know or do not want to know the benefits of vaccines for our community,” wrote Carolyn Bridges, who is the chairwoman of the American College of Physicians’ immunization committee. “Although opponents of vaccines may be vocal, they are the small minority and their arguments are without scientific basis. In contrast, the vast numbers of Idahoans fully support immunizations and recognize the importance of vaccines for their own health and their children’s health. And rigorous science clearly demonstrates the benefit of vaccines; vaccination programs are fully supported by both the medical and legitimate scientific communities.”

“CPS has been acting outside of the U.S. Constitution and Idaho Constitution,” wrote Bret Hormuth. “Parents are being investigated without due process of law with no clear crime committed. I cannot imagine the trauma these children and families are being put through. Children removed prior to criminal investigations need to stop!!!!!”

The health department is accepting written comment on the rules through Aug. 28.

As this series of hearings is only on rules that were in place before the 2019 legislative session, one potentially controversial rule regarding people’s ability to change their sex on their birth certificate is not on the docket. Idaho adopted rules to let transgender people change their birth certificates in response to a 2018 federal court ruling. In May the health department board voted to require anyone under 18 to get a doctor’s sign-off before changing their birth certificate, and the department plans to hold a separate hearing on this rule in September, said department spokeswoman Niki Forbing-Orr.