I am grateful to have a cabin on Ojibway Lake just outside of Ely, Minnesota. It is a very quiet lake with a Boundary Waters-like landscape where I can truly relax and recharge. I hope that all of you have had the opportunity to do the same over the summer.
At the 2019 American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) Annual Leadership Forum, elimination of non-medical exemptions to vaccination was voted as the number one priority. AAP President Dr. Kyle Yasuda has stated, “Given the measles outbreaks, prioritizing the elimination of non-medical exemptions is a timely undertaking.”
The leaders of our chapter, along with our lobbyist, Eric Dick, and Immunization Work Group Chair Dr. Dawn Martin, kept the wheels turning this summer as we pursued a timeline for eliminating non-medical exemptions for vaccines in the state of Minnesota. This was identified as a chapter priority last year and will likely be a marathon undertaking. We have good news in that we have identified Minnesota legislators who are willing to co-author a bill. This will require no small measure of diligence and courage on their behalf as we move forward. A highlight in our advocacy path was a telephone conference in July with Senator Richard Pan, who is a pediatrician and state senator in California. Three years ago, he co-authored a bill that prohibited “any public or private elementary or secondary school, childcare center, day nursery, nursery school, family day care home or development center” from admitting children who have not been fully immunized against several diseases. His words to us during the phone call were a treasure trove of information on how to proceed.
Here are some pearls from the conversation with Senator Pan:
1) Science is important, but it isn’t always effective in winning the hearts or votes of legislators. The face of the bill should be families and children in our communities who are vulnerable to vaccine-preventable infectious diseases and who are fierce advocates of vaccinations.
2) He used the phrase “community immunity” rather than herd immunity. We like this catchy version!
3) Public health comes first and foremost. When anti-vaxxers start to talk about personal freedom, remember that state and federal law rightly allows the government to protect the health of the community.
4) Building a coalition of like-minded organizations, including those in health care, schools and business will be important in strengthening this mission.
The headlines regarding the measles outbreak of 2019 are winding down as I write this letter. But one thing we know for sure is that another measles outbreak in Minnesota is only a matter of time. Other vaccine-preventable diseases are always on our radar, too. We must remain steadfast in protecting children from infectious diseases that may result in harm and death. I invite you to be a part of this chapter initiative. Please contact me or any of our board of directors members if you have families that would like to step forward and participate. Consider signing up for the MNAAP Immunization Work Group. Email your legislators to support this bill when it is introduced. Be available for testimony to the legislature. Become a MNAAP board of directors member!
All of your efforts have an indelible impact on the families and children that we serve.
Lori DeFrance, MD, FAAP