In the midst of a measles outbreak nationwide, Pennsylvania state Rep. Daryl Metcalfe gathered with families and three anti-vaccination academics in Harrisburg on Tuesday to push a bill that punishes doctors who refuse to see unvaccinated patients.
Fifteen of Metcalfe’s fellow Republicans have signed on to co-sponsor the bill, which includes a “vaccine non-discrimination” clause.
The legislation would prohibit “discrimination” or “harassment” by health care providers or insurance companies against parents who decline to vaccinate their children. It also prevents doctors from making these parents sign a liability waiver acknowledging that the child could either catch or spread an illness.
"Our children do not belong to the state," Metcalfe says, defending parents not giving their kids vaccines.
— Stephen Caruso (@StephenJ_Caruso) April 30, 2019
As the number of measles cases across the U.S continues to grow, Metcalfe downplayed the timing of the event. He was joined by dozens of families clad in red who vigorously cheered on him and the other speakers — Mary Holland, a New York University law professor; Alvin Moss, West Virginia University’s director of Health Ethics and Law; and James Lyons-Weiler, a former University of Pittsburgh researcher who has since started his own anti-vaccine nonprofit.
The three combined argued that parents are not well-informed enough of potential medical risks when asked by doctors to OK vaccinations, in violation of medical ethics.
The federal government did set up a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program in the 1980s to compensate families harmed by vaccinations gone wrong. Since its founding in 1988, the fund has paid out $3.9 billion to 6,122 claims. Another 11,214 were dismissed, according to a federal Health Resources and Services Administration report.
In the decade from 2006 to 2016, 3.1 billion vaccine doses were administered to kids in the U.S. Out of those doses, a little more than 5,500 people filed petitions for compensation, of which 3,700 were granted.
Despite some injuries from vaccines, the Centers for Disease Control website claims that “there is no link between vaccines and autism.”
During the event, Metcalfe appeared to compare doctors not treating unvaccinated kids to public distrust of AIDS patients during the ‘80s, because while AIDS is “a disease that you can contract and is very deadly,” vaccines were aimed at “childhood diseases that I had when I was kid” and that were “not really a risk a death.”
According to a late 2018 report from the CDC, the number of American kids who haven’t received any vaccinations has grown by a full percentage point since the turn of the century. In 2001, just .3 percent of kids were completely unvaccinated. By 2015, the number had grown to 1.3 percent.
That rise has led to an increase in doctors turning away families who refuse vaccines. In 2006, 6 percent of doctors would always turn away families that declined vaccines, according to a 2016 study published by the American Association of Pediatrics. By 2013, that number had nearly doubled to 11.7 percent.
The Pennsylvania Association of School Nurses and Practitioners said in a statement that Metcalfe’s bill is a “punitive measure that penalizes health care providers.”
“These health professionals, who are the first line of defense in protecting our children, would be threatened by the loss of licensure and fines for not complying with the provisions of this bill,” association President Kathy Verbel said.
Other members of the General Assembly and Gov. Tom Wolf met the proposal with scorn.
“This bill would put children, pregnant women, and vulnerable patients at risk of being exposed to horrific diseases — at the doctor’s office,” Wolf said in a statement. “I urge Pennsylvanians not to follow or believe this false and dangerous rhetoric.”
Rep. Dan Frankel, D-Allegheny, meanwhile, accused Metcalfe of “lending the dignity of his office to the pseudo-science of the anti-vaccination community.” Such an action was “irresponsible at best,” Frankel added.
Under existing Pennsylvania law, parents can decline to have their children vaccinated for personal or religious reasons. Another 16 states have similar provisions, while nearly all states allow at least religious exemptions.
In response to the measles outbreak and Metcalfe’s bill, Frankel said he would introduce a bill requiring parents who seek vaccine exemptions to get a medical brief on the downsides as well as be informed of quarantine plans in case of outbreaks.