RI Parents Battle State Over Mandated Vaccinations
Friday, January 31, 2014
"We have the department of health saying 'it doesn't matter what you think, you have to get the vaccine,'" said Hillary Davis, Policy Associate for the Rhode Island ACLU.
"Now they're saying 'it doesn't matter what you think about your child's education, what we think about vaccines is the only thing that matters.'"
Davis was one of the few to speak up at a Jan. 18 Rhode Island Department of Health public hearing on the new proposal. The public hearing drew three opponents to the proposal, one of which was Davis, along with letters of support from members of the local medical community.
"The ACLU supports vaccination, but when you're talking about a flu shot it's a vaccine that doesn't last more than a year. And last year's flu shot efficacy rate was around 47 percent. So they're mandating a vaccine that may not work and needs to be re-administered every single year. It raises concerns about the ability of an individual or a parent to make an informed decision," Davis said.
One parent who agrees is Bruce Zarembka, an outspoken government watchdog from East Providence who is also Director of Acquisition at the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.
"The flu vaccine is one of the biggest scams ever pushed on the public by 'Big Pharma' with the help of the government. This new initiative just looks to expand more control over people as well as assist those 'Big Pharma' companies that have greased the palms of so many in Washington," he said.
"Look at the facts...the flu vaccine has very little value."
Under the plan, annual influenza vaccination would be mandatory for all children between 6 months and 59 months before entering public or private preschool or day care programs. Students deemed exempt for medical or religious reasons would be expelled during a flu outbreak.
"The concern is that it allows for any unvaccinated child to be excluded from their preschool or day care in the event of a flu outbreak. There's an outbreak every year. They can last several weeks at a time. This would have serious effect on these children."
The proposal is now being considered by the Department of Health, which will either pass it, amend it, or drop it. Given the lack of public outcry at the hearing, the proposal is likely to pass.
Until then, "there's not a whole lot else we can do," Davis said.
"We've registered our concerns and asked the Department of Health to inform us if they make the choice to disregard our concerns. If the regulation goes into effect and children are excluded from school, we're going to want to know about it."
Some are in favor
Tracy Adams Capobianco, Director of Little Red Schoolhouse childcare center in East Providence, is in favor of the proposal.
"As an owner of a Day Care/Preschool I have my staff get the flu shot. I get the flu shot, my children get the flu shot and I strongly recommend to the parents of the children at the center that their children receive flu shots," she said.
"I send home several notices from RI Department of Health to the parents."
The argument over vaccination continues to rage between the medical community, parents, and – perhaps to the detriment of all sides – celebrity turned anti-vaccination activist, Jenny McCarthy. Rhode Island is not the first to wade into what's become a passionate national debate.
Phil Plait, a columnist for Slate Magazine and author of the book "Death from the Skies!", recently wrote on the issue:
"A parent does not have the right to have their child in a public school if that child is unvaccinated, and for the same reason health care workers should not be unvaccinated. It all comes down to a very simple reality: It puts other children at risk."
The testimony from the public hearing will be reviewed by Department of Health Director Michael Fine, MD. Fine recently declared that the flu is widespread in Rhode Island. This declaration triggered Rhode Island's regulation requiring all healthcare workers who have not been immunized against the flu to wear surgical masks during direct patient contact.
"Since vaccination is the best defense against influenza, it is extremely important for everyone to get vaccinated now if they have not already done so," said Fine.
This year's vaccine protects against H1N1, among others
The dominant strain of flu circulating in Rhode Island and the country is H1N1, which was first detected in 2009. This strain effects children, young adults, and middle aged adults more than other strains. The Department of Health said this year's vaccine protects against H1N1 flu, as well as two or three other strains (depending on what type of vaccine that people receive).
"Everyone older than six months of age should be vaccinated against the flu every year. In addition to healthcare workers, vaccination is especially important for pregnant women, the elderly, and people with chronic medical conditions such as heart, lung or kidney disease, diabetes, and asthma," according to the Department of Health.
Related Slideshow: The Top 30 Highest Paid State Contractors in RI
Below is the list of the top 30 highest paid private contractors for the state of Rhode Island, ranked from least to greatest. Each contractor is identified along with a summary of services that were provided and the department or state agency that hired them. Because contractors will often be hired to offer multiple services or work on numerous projects in a given year, only a basic summary of their work is provided. In cases where a contractor worked for several departments, only a representative sample is listed. The ranking of top contractors excludes payments to other government entities, like cities and towns, as well as quasi-public agencies like the Economic Development Corporation.
Deloitte Consulting, LLP
Total Amount Paid: $9,792,452.99
Agencies: Department of Administration, Office of Health and Human Services, and Department of Business Regulation
Services Provided: Building of a new information technology platform for state health agencies, related to the health benefits exchange
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