Proposed Health Department Rule Would Allow Further Spread of Vaccine Misinformation, Put Kids at Risk
Oklahoma City, Jan. 7, 2021 - A group of medical professionals and advocates is sounding the alarm about proposed changes to vaccine rules at the Oklahoma State Department of Health.
The change to administrative rule Title 310, Chapter 535 would remove an educational requirement for parents who want to refuse vaccines for their children, even if the children are enrolled in Oklahoma schools or childcare centers. The education requirement was put in place in 2020, but implementation was delayed due to the pandemic.
“Covid-19 has shown just how dangerous the spread of a contagious disease can be,” said George Monks, M.D., president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association. “Myths about vaccines spread on social media almost as fast as the diseases themselves. The Health Department’s process protects kids by providing science-based information about vaccines through local health departments. Rolling back that process in the middle of a pandemic is unconscionable.”
Misinformation and disinformation are largely responsible for the increase in vaccine exemptions in Oklahoma in recent years. The number of approved vaccination exemptions increased by more than 60% from 877 in 2014 to 1,434 in 2019, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Anti-vaxxers are actively working to scare parents into not vaccinating their children by preventing Oklahomans from receiving educational information on life saving vaccines.
Vaccines continued adoption throughout the greater population is critical to achieving herd immunity, which stops the spread of preventable and potentially deadly diseases. Vaccines ensure the stability of our economy and help preserve the capacity of our healthcare systems.
“Oklahoma is already a ‘Parent Choice; state for vaccinations,” said Dr. Steven Crawford, chairman of the Oklahoma Alliance for Healthy Families and senior association dean at the OU College of Medicine. “Exemptions are available for personal, medical or religious reasons, and the Health Department rule implemented last year does not remove any available vaccine exemptions. It simply requires that the parent’s choice to deny preventative medical care to their children be an informed choice. Denying children sound medical care can be considered negligent and should not be supported by the state -- our first priority must be to protect kids.”
“It’s important to recognize the impact contagious diseases are having on our schools,” said Dr. Don Wilbur, a pediatrician. “The best way to ensure that we can keep kids in class is to stop community spread of disease. Vaccines are a safe, effective way to do just that. Parents should seriously consider the impact opting their children out of vaccines could have on their own children, the school they attend and the community they call home. Vaccines impact everyone, and everyone who can be vaccinated should be. Opting out based solely on social media myths is irresponsible and unethical.”
The proposed rule change is open for public comment through Jan. 14. Members of the public are invited to submit comments online, asking the Health Department to deny the proposed change. Comments can be made at http://bit.ly/StopVaxMisinfo.
“We are also encouraging Oklahomans to contact Commissioner Frye and Governor Stitt and ask them to protect kids by denying this proposed policy change,” said Crawford. “We have to stop the spread of vaccine misinformation. An informed choice is always best.”