© 2024 Texas Public Radio
Real. Reliable. Texas Public Radio.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

Arizona Lawmakers Consider Loosening Vaccination Requirements


Measles outbreaks across the United States are prompting some states to look at tightening vaccine requirements but not Arizona. KJZZ's Will Stone reports that lawmakers in Phoenix have been considering bills to make it even easier for parents to exempt their children from vaccinations.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: Supporters of the controversial bills being considered in the Arizona Capitol say they're not anti-vaccine. Irene Pi is with the National Vaccine Information Center, a group that advocates against mandatory vaccinations. And her hour-long presentation before the House health committee last month was called "Vaccination: A Case For Full Disclosure."


IRENE PI: Let's have some sensible conversations around this and not impose a narrative on a community of people that are the injured.

STONE: The bills would require that doctors, before giving kids their shots, hand over to parents a daunting stack of papers which discuss vaccine risks and ingredients. Another bill would make it even easier for Arizona parents to opt out and would establish a new type of exemption based on religion. The chair of the House health committee, Republican Nancy Barto, is sponsoring the bills.


NANCY BARTO: These are not, in my view, anti-vaccination bills.

STONE: She says the bills are about preserving religious liberty and individual rights. But doctor after doctor at the hearing warned that the public's health was at stake. Steven Brown is a family physician in Phoenix.


STEVEN BROWN: I'm disheartened and frightened that this is up for debate. Voting in favor of any of these bills and encouraging more exemptions for vaccinations is dangerous for our citizens and sends the wrong message to Arizonans.

STONE: Immunization rates have already been going down in Arizona, and doctors at the hearings said the bills would make that worse. A recent study even identified the Phoenix metro area as a national hotspot for nonmedical exemptions. Jessica Rigler works for the state health department. She says more than 5,000 kindergartners in Arizona could fall sick with measles if there was an outbreak.

JESSICA RIGLER: So if you've got a school where 1 in 10 children are exempt, that school is ripe for a vaccine outbreak.

STONE: But that sobering scenario did not dissuade Republicans, who control the health committee, from voting the package through. That's despite opposition from every major medical organization in Arizona. Republican Becky Nutt said she hears the concerns of the doctors but...

BECKY NUTT: We're in the United States of America, and we have a right to choose for our children, our religion.

STONE: But Democrats on the health committee resisted these emotional appeals.


ALMA HERNANDEZ: Don't confuse passion for facts.

STONE: That's Democrat Alma Hernandez. She says Arizona needs to look at the established science when it comes to diseases that are preventable. She actually backed a bill to eliminate Arizona's vaccine exemptions for personal beliefs, but it never even got a hearing. And Hernandez says she's still being bombarded with hateful emails.


HERNANDEZ: I will say one thing - comparing this situation to the Holocaust and calling me a Nazi is not going to help the cause.

STONE: As concerns over the proposed laws grew, Arizona Governor Doug Ducey spoke out this past week, proclaiming he was pro-vaccination and anti-measles. He has promised to veto any bill that would lead to fewer kids being vaccinated. For NPR News, I'm Will Stone in Phoenix.

SIMON: This story is part of a reporting partnership between NPR, KJZZ and Kaiser Health News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Will Stone is a former reporter at KUNR Public Radio.