Child Health

HB 248 endangers our thread bare public health systems and threatens child safety

June 23, 2021 | Ohio

HB 248 endangers our thread bare public health systems and threatens child safety

June 23, 2021

By Kelly Vyzral, Senior Health Policy Associate 

Even as Children’s Defense Fund-Ohio continues the fight to make sure children and families are foremost in legislators minds as they finish their deliberations on the biennial budget, we must turn our attention to new legislation that threatens children’s health and decades of sound public health policy.

HB 248 makes changes to Ohio’s vaccination law. HB 248 generally requires exemptions to be granted for required immunizations. These exemptions can be offered verbally or in writing and must be accepted regardless of whether it is a public or private entity.  The bill allows for broad exemptions covering medical contraindications, natural immunity, and reasons of conscious including religious and philosophical beliefs, with no requirement for individuals to consult with a physician or other healthcare provider, nor is a provider required to attest to a medical contraindication or natural immunity.

Current law grants exemptions for medical contraindications signed by a physician and for sincerely held religious and philosophical beliefs for state required vaccines for children entering daycare or school. HB 248 drastically expands these exemptions and will result in fewer children receiving immunizations. HB 248 effectively encourages parents to opt out, which is very poor public health policy.

Vaccinations work to protect individuals from disease, diseases that in past generations killed millions of people and left millions more with life-long disabilities, such as sterility, paralysis, disfigurement, blindness, and respiratory issues. We have all seen pictures of children in iron lungs struggling to breathe, and Pres. Roosevelt confined to a wheelchair because of polio.

Vaccinations are important not only for the individual health of children, but because part of living in society is caring for the welfare and well-being of others.  There are many children and adults that cannot be vaccinated because of allergies to vaccine ingredients, certain health conditions, or weakened immune systems.  These members of our society depend on as many people as possible getting vaccinated to keep the disease from spreading. This is called herd immunity and it can effectively stop the spread of communicable disease.

During the pandemic Ohio saw a dramatic decline in child immunization, first due to closure of many pediatrician offices at the beginning of the pandemic, and later because parents were hesitant to bring their children to well-child visits for fear of exposing them to COVID. It is vitally important that children be caught up on immunizations as we head into the 2021-22 school year. As Ohio struggles to recover from the COVID pandemic, every member of this committee knows the importance of getting children back to school in-person and full time.  One way to ensure they cannot return to school is to allow children to lapse in their vaccinations. An outbreak of measles or mumps in a school district could mean that hundreds of students will once again be missing school, and unfortunately, for some of those students and their families the consequences will be much more severe than a week or two of missed school.

We should be looking at ways to strengthen Ohio’s immunization rates and protect our children from these diseases. Current law gives parents pathways to opt out of immunizations for certain reasons, but we should respect the ability of private employers, hospitals, and school districts to make decisions for the benefit of their employees, patients, and students. Vaccines are safe and effective. Many Ohioans are harmed by vaccine preventable disease each year and HB 248 moves our state in the wrong direction.