A proposed resolution that indicating the Price County Board of Supervisors' support for ending Wisconsin's personal conviction waiver for immunizations opened the Oct. 15 meeting.
The recommendation for passing the resolution came from the Price County Public Health Department, and the county's Public Health Officer Michelle Edwards was present to provide information to the county board.
The resolution calls for a change in Wisconsin law, ending the use of personal conviction waivers to opt out of the immunization requirements for schools and licensed daycare centers.
Edwards explained that when children are enrolled in schools or licensed daycares, parents are required to fill out paperwork that included details pertaining to their children's vaccine history. If their children do not meet the minimum immunization requirements, parents can submit waivers based on whether their children have health conditions, if there are religious reasons, or a personal conviction. Wisconsin is one of 16 states that allow parents the option of opting out based on personal convictions.
Edwards said that in order to achieve community immunity — where those vaccinated greatly outnumber the unvaccinated in order to prevent the spread of disease — between 80-90% of the population needs to be immunized.
The percentage of vaccinated three-year-olds and kindergarteners in Price County has decreased in the last six years, according to Edwards.
In 2013, 83% of three-year-olds and 73% of kindergarteners met the minimum requirements to be admitted to a licensed daycare or school.
By 2018, that percentage had declined to 75% of three-year-olds and 67% of kindergarteners.
“In public health, we look at the health and safety of individuals, but we also have to look at our community's health,” said Edwards.
Eight people gave public comment at the meeting, seven in opposition of the proposed resolution, and one in support.
Kimberly Smith, a resident of Oregon, Wisconsin, said that vaccines were not one-size-fits-all, and removing the personal conviction waivers would limit parents' options to vaccinate on an alternative schedule or make other personal choices in their children's healthcare. She also said that making vaccines a requirement to entering school violates a child's right to an education.
Speaking in support of the resolution was Julia Ruff of the Town of Elk, who said that as a longtime pediatric healthcare worker, parents' concerns regarding vaccines could usually be resolved by working with them on an individual basis. She also pointed out that the percentage of adverse reactions to vaccines are not higher than adverse reactions to antibiotics or even certain foods.
Rilla and Arthur Rice, along with their mother Laura Rice, traveled from Freedom and Oostburg to share their personal stories with the board, urging them not to support the resolution. Both Rilla and Arthur Rice said that they have health-related autoimmune issues that will no longer allow them to be vaccinated.
Laura Rice stated that removing the personal conviction waiver discriminates against those who do not have a religious belief prohibiting vaccinations.
Kris Rankin of Winter said that as long as there is risk associated with immunizations, parents should be given the choice whether or not to vaccinate their children.
David Schmidt of the Town of Lake said that while he personally believed in the benefits of immunizations, he thinks that the decision should be made by parents and families. If the personal conviction waiver is to be removed, he said it should come from the state or federal level, not county government. He also questioned how the validity of waivers based on religious reasons would be decided.
Lori Wakefield of Park Falls spoke in opposition of the resolution, saying that the personal conviction waiver gives people the right to say they don't want particular vaccinations or want to follow a different immunization schedule.
Arlis Feidt of Fredonia asked the county to look further into the potential risks associated with vaccines, and asked that the resolution be tabled until further research was conducted.
A few county supervisors took the opportunity to comment as well.
Supervisor Sue Bocock said she opposed the resolution even though she supported immunizations because she believes parents should have the right to choose, and she believes removing the personal conviction will automatically remove the religious waiver as religion is also personal conviction.
Supervisor Paula Houdek commented in support, saying that while she believes in personal rights, there are a number of laws in place designed to protect the greater community.
Supervisor Bruce Jilka said that he believes the role of government is to educate people to make correct choices and not make choices for them, and said he opposed this resolution since it removes the rights of the individual.
Supervisor Bill Teeters said he appreciated the comments received, but said he believes immunization are scientifically sound and he trusts the judgement of people in health care to make the right decisions.
In a roll call vote, the resolution was passed with six votes in support, five against, and one abstaining vote from supervisor Larry Palecek.