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Vaccines

The Montana Legislature is considering a handful of bills that would loosen restrictions around requirements for vaccinations.

Last month, nearby Washington state declared a state of emergency after 66 people there were diagnosed with measles. Three cases of mumps were confirmed in Bozeman just two weeks ago. Vaccinations protect against both diseases.

Many people who testified Monday in support of the bills said their children had suffered harm after being given routine childhood vaccinations or said they had suffered after receiving vaccinations as a child, adding their opposition should not be looked at through the lens of what's happening in other states.

Opponents to the bills said children who are not vaccinated for religious reasons put those who are too young or medically unable to be vaccinated at risk, pointing out diseases are just a car ride away.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says vaccines help protect against serious diseases. Vaccination also prevents disease from spreading to others, according to the CDC. All vaccines go through testing with the CDC and federal Food and Drug Administration. While severe or long-lasting side effects are rare, there are sometimes minor side effects that are short-lived, such as soreness where the shot was given, according to the CDC.

Two of the bills are carried by Rep. Theresa Manzella, R-Hamilton.

House Bill 575 would prohibit day cares from denying enrollment to children whose parents have religious exemptions to vaccines. State health department rules say a Montana day care facility must be provided with documentation a child has been immunized with a basic childhood series. It allows medical exemptions.

Corrie Meza, who is co-leader of Montanans for Vaccine Choice, said she had to quit her job because no licensed day care facility would accept a religious exemption for her children.

Hannah Danzer, who runs a Helena day care facility with 50 children, opposed the bill, saying it put children under her care in danger, especially children too young to be vaccinated or those who can't be for medical reasons.

"By passing this bill you make keeping them safe even harder to do," Dozer said.

House Bill 574 also deals with religious exemptions and would stop the health department from prohibiting foster families to take in children if one of their own children is not vaccinated because of a religious exemption. This is also in a department rule that Manzella says goes beyond the scope of what the Legislature intends. Manzella also said with a record number of children needing foster care, the state should not be limiting places they could be placed.

Rep. David Dunn, a Republican from Evergreen, is carrying House Bill 564.

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The bill would forbid the health department from helping schools that seek assistance in reviewing the validity of claims for exemptions. It would also let physician assistants and some nurses sign medical exemption forms. 

The committee did not take action on the bills Monday.

Senate Bill 23, from Sen. Keith Regier, R-Kalispell, says employers must accommodate employees who do not get vaccinated for religious or medical reasons, along with any other reason. Regier's bill cleared the Senate on a 29-20 vote and will have a hearing in the House Judiciary Committee.

Senate Bill 99, from Sen. Cary Smith, a Republican from Billings, would require that when schools communicate to parents or guardians about immunizations, they must provide information about exemptions. It is likely dead after a failed 24-25 vote in the Senate.

Murphy said Montana already requires fewer vaccines than in other states.

And while others who supported the bills insisted repeatedly what was happening in Washington had nothing to do with Montana, "that's pretty close. That's just a car ride away, not a plane ride away."

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