Lawmakers: Pressure groups want to ‘weaponize and monetize’ anti-vaccination sentiments
BOISE — A panel of state lawmakers told the Idaho Healthcare Summit on Wednesday that while they all favor childhood immunizations, the Legislature is not unanimous on the issue, and there’s growing pressure from groups that want to “weaponize and monetize” the issue for their own political agendas, membership and fundraising efforts.
“This issue is ripe for that,” said House Speaker Scott Bedke, R-Oakley. “It bothers me that these types of issues become litmus tests on your feelings for freedom or those types of, you know. And I’m all for all of that. But I’m always dismayed about how we take these types of issues and turn them into litmus tests and then weaponize and monetize them.”
Rep. Rod Furniss, R-Rigby, said, “I read through all the conspiracy theories. … I want you to know that vaccines are important.”
And Sen. Maryanne Jordan, D-Boise, the Senate minority caucus chair, said, “It has been shown that opting out of vaccinations is not the best path for kids. We haven’t seen measles in how many years, and now we’re seeing measles. We have people with newborn babies who are afraid to leave the house.
“Idaho does have opt-out provisions for parents,” Jordan said. “They don’t even need to state the reason; they can just opt out.” She said she becomes concerned when it moves past that, “to a discussion of changing the delivery of the scientific information to try to encourage more people to opt out, because we’re going to see measles here, we’re going to see it sooner rather than later. We’re surrounded by states that are having outbreaks and it’s going to come. It worries me for the kids, it worries me for the parents.”
“It could be really dangerous,” she said.
After Jordan spoke, Furniss said, “Boy, she did a great job. I want to give her a hug.” Amid laughter, he added, “Yes, I have been vaccinated.”
He noted that Idaho’s childhood immunization rates are significantly below the national average.
“We’re under-vaccinated in the state of Idaho,” he said.
Furniss said it’s an issue he’s discussed with constituents.
“Our schools, we’re constitutionally commanded to have safe schools, and part of that is … safety from infection and safety from disease,” he said.
Bedke said as a cattle rancher, “I’m pro-herd immunity, in my profession.”
“I think this is indicative of how the blessings of living in a modern society, that we think we can take for granted,” he said. “We have eradicated these diseases through immunizations, and we don’t have to put up with them any more, and there’ve been generations now that don’t have to deal with the ravages of these diseases.” Now, he said, “They think they can roll the dice.”
“But that’s my opinion,” he added. “Our view might be mainstream — it is not unanimous.”
Betsy Z. Russell is the Boise bureau chief and state capitol reporter for the Idaho Press and Adams Publishing Group. Follow her on Twitter at @BetsyZRussell.