Arizona. Texas. Mississippi. Iowa.
All states in 2019 to consider legislation that would broaden, rather than narrow, exemptions for vaccinations.
In Iowa, Sen. Dennis Guth, R-Klemme, authored and introduced Senate Bill 239 in mid-February that required health care professionals who sign a medical exemption "state that the immunizations required could, rather than would, be injurious to the health and well-being of the applicant or a family members." It also amended existing religious exemptions and created philosophical exemptions.
"Now that I’m in the majority, I think I have a chance to actually do something about this," Guth said.
The second-term senator represents Hancock, Winnebago, Kossuth, Wright and Emmet counties in North Iowa.
Guth's bill didn't make it out of committee.
At the time, House Speaker Linda Upmeyer, R-Clear Lake, said, "Most of us are fortunate that we haven’t lived in a time when diseases that vaccinations address were really running rampant in our country, so it’s easy to forget about that."
"The fact that we have vaccinations and immunizations means that we don’t have some of these really debilitating things that cause disabilities, the measles, the polio, deafness, blindness, all kinds of problems."
Upmeyer was contacted via email twice for this story and didn't respond.
In the month since the vaccine exemption legislation failed, however, Guth hasn't backed down from legislation he said had some people calling him a "fool."
'Done the research'
Guth said he's been working on a form of the vaccination exemption legislation for two-and-a-half years but thinking about it before he ran for the senate seat in the 4th District.
Guth claims that his Road to Damascus moment was meeting folks while camping whose daughter "had had a neurological condition caused by vaccine."
Nathan Boonstra, a Des Moines-based pediatrician who proved testimony at the subcommittee hearing on Guth's bill, said that the bill was "ill-conceived." He said studies have shown "over and over again that vaccines do not increase the risk of neurological conditions such autism in the first place."
A 2013 Center for Disease Control study found that vaccines do not cause neurological conditions such as autism spectrum disorder.
In 2011, an Institute of Medicine report on eight different vaccines concluded "few health problems are caused by or clearly associated with vaccines."
According to the CDC's website: When past concerns were raised that thimerosal, a mercury-based preservative that helps prevent vaccine vial contamination, caused autism spectrum disorder, it was removed or reduced from most childhood vaccines between 1999 and 2001. Since that time, the CDC has funded or conducted nine studies that failed to find a link between thimerosal and autism spectrum disorder. Additionally, no link was found between "the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine and ASD in children."
Boonstra pointed out that measles, in particular, has been increasing over the past several years. In 2017, the CDC confirmed 120 cases of measles. In 2018, that number was 372. Three months into 2019, it's already at 268.
"I can’t imagine why we would want our state immunization rates to go down further, and open ourselves up to an outbreak in Iowa," Boonstra said. "Our kids have the right to the safest environment possible when they go to school, and that means minimizing the risk of outbreaks of dangerous diseases as much as possible."
Still, Guth claims that he has "done the research" and has previously been in contact with the National Vaccine Info Council, which helps to craft the language for vaccination exemptions bills across the country. It even keeps a map of states with medical, philosophical and religious exemptions for vaccinations.
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The organization was founded in 1982 and says that is a "charitable nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing vaccine injuries and deaths through public education."
But members of the scientific community, including those at Institute for Science in Medicine, have called past NVIC campaigns "indefensible from a public health perspective."
And the NVIC is partnered with the Mercola website which has argued that thimerosal can cause autism and that vaccination dangers can "kill you or ruin your life," according to a 2004 article.
"I'm not saying they’re 100 percent linked, but there might be a link there," Guth commented on the relationship of vaccines and autism.
When asked about the subtle insinuation that having autism would be worse than coming down with a potentially life-threatening illness, Guth asserted that, "if you get a severe case of autism, there’s a lot of diseases I’d rather have than that."
However, Guth has said that autism is just one of his concerns in pushing for vaccination exemption legislation.
He has also said that he's concerned about auto-immune reactions and, more broadly, that the "medical community seems to be trying to ignore this."
"There are some opportunities for financial benefit if they get more clientele vaccinated," Guth claimed. "Big pharmaceutical and medical company claims are overstated."
Boonstra, the Des Moines doctor who works at Blank Children’s Hospital, however, disputes the idea that vaccines can can cause auto-immune reactions.
"Serious vaccine reactions are extremely rare," Boonstra flatly stated. "A severe allergic reaction, for example, is estimated at around 1 per 1.3 million doses of vaccines. There’s no good evidence at this point that there are identifiable subsets of children that are prone to having one of these already rare reactions."
Guth also claimed that his line of thinking and the legislation he's committed to pushing has "lots of interest from constituents" in the 4th District.
Those supportive constituents are not the only ones to keep from condemning Guth.
Scott McIntyre is the vice president of communications for the Iowa Hospital Association. His group donated $1,000 to Guth's most recent campaign in 2016.
His group doesn't "expect any legislator to agree with us all the time, and I’m sure they have the same take on us and any other entity or group represented at the Capitol."
He said that the Iowa Hospital Association, which uses the tagline "We care about Iowa's health," doesn't take into account "individual legislators’ actions" despite the fact that it donates to a swathe of individual campaigns for both Republicans and Democrats.
"There are a number of factors that we weigh, including a candidate’s experience, legislative leadership and input from hospital leaders as well as our own interviewing," McIntyre asserted.
Vice President and Chief Counsel of Family Leader Chuck Hurley went a step further and said that "people are more than getting their money's worth out of Sen. Guth."
Hurley said that Family Leader, a Christian political organization, didn't lobby on behalf of Guth's failed bill but would continue to support him in the future.
"I would say he’s one of the best public servants I’ve ever known in the 28 years of being at the Capitol," Hurley said. "He’s the type of guy we’d like to continue to support."