As a bill to strengthen school vaccination requirements advances in Colorado’s Democratically-controlled legislature, Republican opposition to pro-vaccine policy remains strong, with every Republican lawmaker on the House Health and Insurance Committee voting against the measure Sunday and more in Colorado’s General Assembly vocally opposing it.
Those lawmakers are voting in line with their GOP platforms in the counties they represent.
One of those platforms, passed by local party leaders, goes so far as to refer to vaccine requirements as “medical tyranny.”
Senate Bill 163 would streamline Colorado’s vaccine exemption process by requiring those seeking nonmedical exemptions from school immunizations to obtain a form signed by a medical professional or watch an educational video about vaccines. Currently, those wishing to opt-out of vaccine requirements for any reason can simply submit a note to their school — some of the laxest immunization requirements in the country.
By making it more difficult for parents to opt-out of immunizations, lawmakers are hoping to raise the state’s abysmally low immunization rates.
Only 87 percent of the state’s kindergarteners received the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine during the last school year, one of the lowest rates in the nation. Herd immunity, which protects those who can’t receive immunizations for medical reasons, requires vaccination rates of around 95 percent.
State Reps. Dave Williams and Tim Geitner, both El Paso County Republicans, voted against the bill on Sunday.
The El Paso County Republican Party passed two resolutions this year condemning vaccine requirements:
“Be it resolved that EPC Republicans condemn government mandated vaccinations that are against an individuals, religious, philosophical medical beliefs; including parents’ rights to choose all, or no, vaccinations for their children.
“Be it resolved that EPC Republicans condemn discrimination against any person based on their vaccination status, which includes discrimination in eligibility for employment based on their vaccination status; & furthermore condemn government tracking of individuals based on their vaccination status.”
Rep. Mark Baisley, a Douglas County Republican, has also been vocal in his opposition to the measure and voted against it on Sunday.
The Douglas County GOP also approved anti-vaccine language in its party platform with over 62 percent of the vote. The party voted to “oppose any state-mandated vaccinations” and to “support the rights of citizens to live free of tracking and discrimination based on vaccination status.”
In a position passed in early April, just as the coronavirus pandemic was ramping up in Colorado, the Adams County GOP passed a resolution by a 58 to 19 vote that condemned “any form of mandated vaccinations.” Party chair JoAnn Windholz told the Colorado Times Recorder at the time that should a coronavirus vaccine be developed, “it has to be the parents’ decision” whether to allow their child to receive such a vaccine.
The full resolution reads:
“Be it resolved that the Colorado Republican Party condemn any form of mandated vaccinations; support the right for all citizens to accept or decline any or all vaccinations; condemns any use of tracking systems to track citizens based on vaccination status; condemn discrimination against citizens based on their vaccination status; and supports the rights of citizens to live free of tracking and discrimination (medical tyranny).”
The statewide Republican Party’s 2020 platform, while slightly softer in its anti-vaccine language, makes clear that the party will oppose strengthening immunization requirements:
“Be it resolved, the Colorado Republican Party supports policies that protect the doctor/patient relationship, people with preexisting conditions, and medical cost transparency, and affirms that healthcare decisions on topics including immunizations, end of life care, and the care of minors belong with individuals, parents, and their doctors rather than government dictates and government healthcare monopolies.”
Earlier in the legislative session, before COVID-19 forced a pause in operations, Williams pushed a bill called the “Vaccine Consumer Protection Act” that would have required health care providers to give unspecified information about the “risks and benefits” of vaccines to patients, and stated that health providers cannot “harass, coerce, scold, or threaten” those who delay or deny vaccines for themselves or their children.
Geitner sponsored a bill that would have established so-called “parental rights,” defined as the right to “direct the upbringing, education, and care of a parent’s child,” in Colorado law, and required that those rights be prioritized above other legal rights.
And state Sen. Vicki Marble (R-Fort Collins) and state Rep. Lori Saine (R-Firestone) pushed legislation that would have barred employers, including health care facilities, from requiring vaccinations of any kind from employees.
Even as opposition to vaccine mandates solidifies within the Colorado Republican Party, support for vaccines remains strong among Colorado voters. According to a recent poll from Keating Research, 88 percent of voters agreed that children should be required to be vaccinated before attending school or child care, and 79 percent supported Colorado lawmaker’s proposal to raise the bar on vaccine exemptions.
“State lawmakers are making the important decision to act on behalf of our public health, something that is more important now than ever,” said Michele Ames, spokesperson for Colorado Vaccinates, in a press release. “We support their willingness to act to ensure our schools and communities are safe and our national health emergency is not compounded by an outbreak of a vaccine preventable disease.”
As lawmakers were debating the legislation inside the Capitol on Sunday, hundreds of anti-vaxxers, including racist pundit Michelle Malkin and several Republican lawmakers and candidates, rallied outside.
House Minority Leader Patrick Neville (R-Castle Rock) applauded his caucus for stalling the bill and said he believes the legislation is stopped by divine providence every year, Denver Post reporter Saja Hindi reported.
Senate District 19 candidate Lynn Gerber promoted the protest on Facebook and attended the event.
On Tuesday, in a move to appease Republicans who continued to fight the legislation, Democratic lawmakers amended the bill to allow Colorado voters a chance to repeal it by giving them 90 days after the bill passes to collect signatures to place a repeal measure on the November 2020 ballot.
The bill gets a final vote in the House today before it must return to the Senate for final approval. State Sen. Kevin Priola of Henderson was the only Republican to vote for the measure when it passed out of the Senate in February.