Vaccines are one of the greatest public health achievements that have saved millions of lives by preventing the spread of infectious diseases. Unfortunately, over the past 20 years, Wisconsin’s vaccine opt out rate has been increasing and is 5 times higher today than it was 20 years ago. Data shows that Winnebago County has the lowest vaccine compliance rate in the tri-county area. The decreasing immunization rate among Wisconsin children is especially concerning to public health officials as more than 1,000 cases of measles have been confirmed in 2019 – the highest number on record in the U.S. since 1994 and since the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) declared measles to be eliminated in 2000 thanks to the MMR vaccine. The measles outbreak is a public health crisis and should be concerning to Wisconsin residents because measles outbreaks have been confirmed in neighboring states (Illinois, Michigan, and Iowa), and only four other states had higher rates of non-medical exemptions for the MMR vaccine last school year than Wisconsin. More than half of the states in the U.S. have had measles outbreaks this year.
State Representative Gordon Hintz represents Oshkosh in the Wisconsin State Assembly, and he recently introduced legislation to eliminate the personal conviction exemption for vaccinations, which would eliminate the ability to waive the immunization requirement for schools, child care centers, and nursery schools for “personal” reasons. Wisconsin has one of the broadest exemption criterion in the nation for vaccinations and is 1 of 18 states that allows parents to exempt their children from vaccinations for personal reasons – other states allow only medical or religious waivers. Last year, state health records showed the number of Wisconsin children who had been opted out of vaccinations by their parents was more than double the national average. More than 90% of these exemptions were for personal reasons as opposed to medical or religious reasons. The proposed legislation only seeks to eliminate the personal conviction waiver, while the religious and medical exemptions will remain unchanged.
High vaccination rates are crucial in protecting the health and safety of communities because some people are unable to receive vaccinations such as infants, older adults, those who are immunocompromised (e.g. cancer patients), and those who have medical reasons. Immunizations are necessary to protect both the individual and the community, and personal conviction exemptions place the overall public health of our communities at risk. Vaccines save lives, protect our children, and keep our communities healthy.
- Rep Hintz’s press release
- Assembly Bill 248 & Senate Bill 262
- USA Today article on personal conviction
- WPR article on bill
- WI School Immunization Rates Data Sheet from DHS
- DHS Childhood & Adolescent Vaccine Information & Schedule
- NYT interactive map showing confirmed measles cases by county
- CDC Measles Cases & Outbreak