Distraught mothers clashed Thursday with medical officials over immunization requirements imposed on Kansas school children.
At least 150 individuals attended a hearing on proposed legislation that would remove the authority of the Kansas Department of Health and Environment to require certain vaccinations in schools and day care facilities. The power would be transferred instead to the Legislature.
KDHE last summer added meningitis and hepatitis A to the list of required immunizations, sparking outcry from concerned parents who see connections between vaccines and a variety of health problems suffered by their children.
Vaccines are effective for managing the spread of diseases. Other required immunizations include diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, whopping cough, rubella, tetanus and chicken pox.
KDHE Secretary Lee Norman told lawmakers that decisions about vaccines need to be managed by experts and medical health professionals.
"Weighing the impact of the protection of those who are at greatest risk for infection and who cannot be protected by vaccines must be considered,“ Norman said.
He defended the benefits of herd immunization by comparing it to a stop sign at a busy intersection. If 5% of the people run the stop sign, he said, maybe nobody will notice. If the number rises to 20%, there will be a lot of collisions.
Many of those who attended the hearing, bolstered by their own research, complained of unknown risks they associate with vaccines and financial conflicts of interest by those who administer them. They blasted KDHE for imposing new requirements they say are unnecessary.
A half-dozen women lined up to share personal stories of tragedy involving their children.
Kelly Stewart, a Wichita resident, hoisted her 6-year-old daughter as she lamented the child’s suffering from autism, along with speech and sensory processing disorders. As the girl smiled and waved at committee members, Stewart explained her daughter can’t handle seeing Santa or birthday parties without having a meltdown.
Stewart said the girl’s illness followed a routine vitamin K shot as an infant.
“I am so incredibly thankful we saw the correlation between her regressions and when she had shots,” Stewart said. “I am so incredibly thankful it’s not worse. And I am so incredibly heartbroken for my baby, who will go through life not knowing that the hurt, struggle and frustration of doing daily tasks is all caused by something that could have been so easily prevented.”
Rachel Price, of Lawrence, presented strands of syringes to demonstrate how the number of required vaccinations has increased from five in the 1960s, when she was a child, to 24 by the time her daughter was born in 1985. Kids today have 50 shots by the time they are 5 years old, she said.
“I now have grandchildren and am gravely concerned about the toxic load they are required to carry,” Price said. “It is unconscionable that we are required to pump our children full of aluminum, mercury, human DNA and many other toxic substances in order for them to attend school or day care.”
Jay Goodbinder, a holistic medicine doctor from Stilwell, complained that vaccine supporters resort to “fearmongering” as they describe the worst possible scenarios. For example, Goodbinder said, they might talk about meningitis causing people’s skin to slough off.
Andy Marso, a meningitis survivor and former reporter for The Topeka Capital-Journal, shook the remains of his fists in response.
“In my case,” Marso said, “entire limbs were sloughing off.”
Marso contracted bacterial meningitis in 2004 as a senior at the University of Kansas. He spent a month in a medically induced coma and lost circulation to his extremities.
He said his medical bills that year totaled $1.5 million to treat a disease that can be prevented with a $150 shot.
“This is about much more than money,” Marso said. “It’s about people’s lives, limbs, vision, hearing and brain function. Meningitis can steal them all. KDHE’s experts, free from any lobbying or re-election pressures, made a good decision for the sake of public health, and the vast majority of Kansans are fine with that decision.”
Physicians and school nurses also testified in support of KDHE control over vaccine requirements.
Rep. Steve Huebert, a Republican from Valley Center who serves as chairman of the House Education Committee, said he introduced the legislation and called the hearing because he was concerned about checks and balances.
Huebert said he didn’t hear anything from KDHE about the new vaccine requirements before last year’s legislative session ended in May. KDHE made the change after a yearlong process that included multiple public hearings.
More than 200 people provided written testimony for Thursday’s hearing. Huebert said his committee may not take action on the bill, but he hoped the hearing will help spur behind-the-scenes actions to improve communication between KDHE and the Legislature.
“Some people continue to say they don’t want politics to be involved,” Huebert said. “There’s always politics involved, and our role as legislators is to make sure the people’s voice is heard.”