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BOISE — Again by a single vote, a legislative committee has approved a rule requiring students entering 12th grade to get a meningitis booster shot.

The House Health and Welfare Committee approved the rule 7-6 three weeks ago. On Thursday, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee approved the same rule 5-4. The two local senators on the committee were split, with Van Burtenshaw, R-Terreton, in favor of the rule and Mark Harris, R-Soda Springs, opposed.

The rule will take effect unless both the House and Senate approve a resolution rejecting it. Rep. Priscilla Giddings, R-White Bird, introduced a bill to do this last week. It was introduced as a “personal bill,” or one that didn’t go through the committee process, and these bills don’t usually get hearings in the House.

Idaho students are already required to get a meningitis shot before entering seventh grade. However, its effectiveness wears off after a few years, said Deputy State Epidemiologist Kathy Turner. She said the booster would make sure Idahoans are protected as teenagers and young adults, the age group at the highest risk for meningitis. Turner said about 20 percent of people who get meningitis die, and another 20 percent suffer permanent disability.

“These are unexpected deaths,” she said. “They are devastating to parents, siblings, classmates and communities.”

Turner hopes adding it to the list of required vaccines would lead to a higher immunization rate. That’s what happened when the state started requiring it for seventh-graders.

“We want high vaccination coverage so those who are immunized can protect our friends, family and neighbors” who can’t vaccinate because they may have weak immune systems or be on certain medications, Turner said.

Parents could opt out of having their children get the meningitis booster, as they can opt out of other vaccines now.

Turner said most of the public comment last year was in favor of the rule. However, most of the people who came to the hearing opposed it. Glenneda Zuiderveld, of Jerome, who ran in the Republican primary last year for the House seat now held by Laurie Lickley, said her two sons, who she home-schooled and didn’t vaccinate, got sick when they joined the military in their 20s and received the required vaccinations.

“I … think it goes against a parent’s liberties to make that decision for their children,” she said. “Because we do know what’s best for our kids.”

A couple people said the rule wasn’t necessary since meningitis is so rare.

“There is no health crisis,” said Julie True, with Health Freedom Idaho. “Three people out of 1.6 million is no indication that we need to have this vaccination for 30,000 seniors.” (Idaho averages three cases a year.)

Sen. Regina Bayer, R-Meridian, proposed rejecting the rule, saying most of the constituents she has heard from opposed the rule. Her motion failed 5-4.

Sen. Lee Heider, R-Twin Falls, said much of the testimony had been about the government restricting freedom, but “not very many people have mentioned in the same sentence they can opt out of having these vaccinations. I recognize that the emotion is on the freedom part and taking away my freedoms and the harm it may do my children. And if those folks feel that way, in Idaho we are, in the same section, providing an opt-out.”

After the vote, committee Vice Chairwoman Mary Souza, R-Coeur d’Alene, who voted to reject the rule, urged the people in the crowd to educate others on Idaho’s vaccination opt-out rules, as a woman yelled back that she would work to vote them all out.

“Now we know you’re for tyranny,” she said. “You’re not for the Constitution. You’re not for protecting the people. Thank you for bringing California to Idaho.”

Even if the rule stays in place this year, it could come back up next year. The rule says “student” rather than “child,” and Turner said the Board of Health and Welfare may write a new temporary rule after the session changing it back to “child.” If this happens, the Legislature would take it up again in 2020.

The committee also signed off unanimously on two other rules, both also already approved by the House committee, to clarify that parents can opt out of vaccinating their children with any signed statement and aren’t required to use a form provided by the school, day care or the Department of Health and Welfare. Sara Walton Brady, who volunteers with Health Freedom Idaho and whose son was turned away from kindergarten in the Boise area when she refused to fill out the official form, thanked the committee for this.

“It’s important the control remains in the parents’ hands when they give the statement,” she said.

Reporter Nathan Brown can be reached at 208-542-6757. Follow him on Twitter: @NateBrownNews.

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