Some parents want to know the individual ingredients used to vaccinate their children, and that information is readily available online or from a local doctor. But requiring doctors and their staff to disclose the information to parents before they agree to have their children immunized is not necessary, wouldn’t be beneficial for many parents and would only serve to spread fear about immunizations, which have helped the country rid itself of many debilitating diseases, such as polio.
The Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee was right Monday to vote against a bill, LD 754, sponsored by Rep. Andrea Boland, D-Sanford, that would require health care providers to inform children’s guardians about the ingredients of immunizing agents and to tell guardians they have the option of refusing immunizations based on religious or philosophical beliefs. The bill should now be defeated by the full Legislature.
Childhood immunizations help keep both individuals and communities safe from infectious diseases. Making it more cumbersome for children to get vaccinated is concerning, especially because Maine’s vaccination rate is decreasing and the number of cases of communicable diseases, such as whooping cough, is increasing. When most people in a community are vaccinated, and a few people decide not to get immunized, they are benefiting from the vaccination of others. When vaccination rates decrease, though, the group immunity effect is lost.
First, requiring health care professionals to disclose ingredients in vaccines is not particularly helpful for people without a specialized background. Is it advantageous to a parent to know a human papillomavirus vaccine contains yeast protein, vitamins, amino acids, mineral salts, carbohydrates, amorphous aluminum hydroxyphosphate sulfate, L-histidine, polysorbate 80 and sodium borate? Vaccine ingredients are readily available online from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. If parents want to learn more, the Pediatrics journal, for example, has published helpful and scientifically backed information.
Second, federal law already requires that patients or their guardians receive vaccination information statements before vaccinations are given. These sheets explain the benefits and risks of a vaccine, were developed by the CDC to be readable to a wide audience and are available in dozens of languages. It’s not clear how adding a requirement for health care professionals to disclose vaccine components would enhance the educational process. If anything, it would be an unnecessary burden for doctors and their staff. In addition, health care practitioners already work from a common, basic understanding of informed consent.
Third, a transparent system with the National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program keeps track of any vaccines determined to cause harm. Since the first claims were filed in 1989, 3,244 compensation awards have been made out of the millions of doses of vaccines administered each year in that time period. In addition, the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System, sponsored by the CDC and the Food and Drug Administration, collects information about possible side effects that occur after people have been vaccinated in the U.S. Most of the possible side effects are minor, such as soreness or fever, and go away within a few days.
In written testimony, Jessa Barnard, associate general counsel for the Maine Medical Association, said LD 754 adds “nothing of substance” to a “highly regulated area of vaccine administration and safety and will only heighten fears raised by the anti-vaccine movement.” We agree. The Legislature should reject the bill.