Broad coalition unifies against vaccine bill

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(Developing: Will be updated as warranted)

Almost 30 business, medical and social welfare groups covering the political spectrum are urging lawmakers to reject a bill discouraging vaccinations and limiting the state health secretary from mandating new innoculations.

The group on Monday sent a letter to lawmakers calling on them to scrap a bill that not only bars employers from requiring vaccines but also prohibits the state health secretary from requiring new vaccines for day care centers and schools.

The letter, with so many influentual and diverse groups, has the power to slow down momentum of a bill that whipped out of committee a week ago.

The coalition of 27 groups signing the letter includes the Kansas Chamber of Commerce as well as chambers of commerce in Lenexa, Olathe, Overland Park as well as the Greater Kansas City Chamber.

It also includes Kansas Action for Children, the Kansas Livestock Asociation, the Kansas Academy of Family Physicians, the Kansas Hospital Association, the Kansas Medical Society, the Kansas Restaurant Association and the Kansas Contractors Association.

The bill was sponsored by Republican state Sen. Mark Steffen of Hutchinson. He was not immediately available for comment early Monday afternoon.

Steffen’s bill doesn’t fine businesses for requiring vaccines. However, it would shield businesses from legal liability if an unvaccinated employee infects someone else.

It also would apply to a business’ decision to allow someone on their premises without a vaccination who might infect someone else.

The bill applies to vaccines in general, not just the COVID-19 innoculation.

The bill, the letter says, “takes away the freedom for private businesses to decide what is in the best interest of their patrons and employees.

“Employers have the right to protect their employees and customers and establish employee qualifications, which can include health and safety standards.

“In fact, employers in our state have an obligation to provide a safe workplace for their employees and the U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission allows companies to require influenza and other vaccines,” the letter said.

The groups also take issue with the second part of the bill that would bar the state health secretary from requiring new vaccines for day care centers and schools.

The bill, instead, would turn those decisions over to the state Legislature.

Currently, those decisions are made by the state health secretary under state administrative regulations.

The bill would keep in place the current list of required vaccinations but would prevent the health secretary from adding new ones to the list, namely COVID-19.

A Republican state legislator said Kansas would be the first state in the country in which either the state health department or health secretary wouldn’t make the decision about vaccinations.

The groups say the bill “removes Kansas’ ability to respond in a timely manner to the best scientific recommendations for childhood and adolescent immunizations for preventable, communicable diseases.”

They say the current administrative process allows for quarterly review of evidence-based recommendations for changes in the vaccine schedule.

“Removing the (health secretary’s) authority to make necessary changes in the vaccine schedule…in favor of an unpredictable and seasonal legislative process could result in delays endangering the health of Kansas children.”

The state health secretary is advised by experts in the Kansas Immunization Program, which makes determinations of the annual list of required vaccines based on the national Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, also known as ACIP.

The secretary of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services selects the 15 members of the ACIP.

It is made up of 15 members who have experience in vaccinology, immunology, pediatrics, internal medicine, nursing, family medicine, virology, public health, infectious diseases and preventative medicine.

Supporters of the bill said the state is a “puppet” of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the ACIP.

“They regurgitate what they are told to do by agencies who receive funding and
influence from pharma,” Connie Newcome, president of Kansans for Health Freedom told lawmakers in recent testimony.

“The egregious policy of forcing vaccines intramuscularly into healthy children for illnesses they would almost never have needs a thorough rethink,” she said.

The Kansas chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics issued a separate statement opposing the legislation.

“Vaccines are safe and effective for preventing infectious disease,” the group said.

“Using a legislative process for determining school and daycare immunization requirements is highly unusual, and Kansas would be the only state in the country with this method.