Wisconsin Republicans are preparing to block another new policy from Democratic Gov. Tony Evers that would require students to be vaccinated against meningitis twice and tighten chickenpox vaccination mandates for college students.
The GOP-controlled Legislature Rules Committee will hold a public hearing on the policy on Tuesday. A committee vote to block the policy could follow soon, perhaps within days.
The committee’s co-chair, Republican Senator Steve Nass, called the new provisions “arbitrary and capricious” in a message to voters. The Rules Committee also blocked the policy in the last legislature.
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“Unfortunately, Governor Evers, the (State Department of Health Services) and Legislative Democrats strongly oppose the right of parents and adults to make free decisions regarding vaccinations,” Nass said in his message.
State health officials announced in February that they were attempting to reintroduce rules this fall requiring students entering 7th grade to get vaccinated against meningitis. Students entering 12th grade must receive a booster shot. Previously, the agency did not require students to be vaccinated against meningitis at all.
The health department also requires students to get vaccinated against chickenpox to attend every grade from kindergarten through 6th grade. In the past, a child was exempt if parents contacted the school district and said the child already had the disease. Under the regulations starting this fall, parents must provide proof of infection from a healthcare provider to get a waiver.
Wisconsin Republicans are preparing to block a new policy from Governor Tony Evers that would tighten vaccination requirements for meningitis and chickenpox for college students. (Jim Vondruska/Getty Images)
Families can still request waivers from the requirements for meningitis vaccination and chickenpox for medical, religious or philosophical reasons, as they can for other vaccinations.
The agency also updated its definition of an outbreak to include five or more cases of chickenpox and three or more cases of meningitis. Nass aide Mike Mikalsen said this creates an unnecessary hardship for students because under health department rules, if an outbreak occurs in a school or daycare center, students may be banned until they are immunized against the disease or until the department has issued the outbreak reports. about.
Dr. Stephanie Schauer, the manager of the state’s immunization program, told reporters on a conference call that the Advisory Council on Immunization Practices — experts who advise the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention — has recommended that students get vaccinated against meningitis since 2005, and the state of health of state officials have developed the mandate since 2017. Many students have already been vaccinated, so the requirements shouldn’t be a burden, she said.
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“It makes sense to put that (requirement) in place at this point,” she said.
As for requiring documentation of a chickenpox infection to avoid vaccination, Dr. Ryan Westergaard, the state’s chief medical officer, told reporters on the same call that vaccinations have reduced chickenpox infections to the point that they are difficult to identify and require proof of infection. from a medical professional is the best way to protect children.
Evers spokesperson Britt Cudaback did not respond to a request for comment.
Public schools across the country typically require vaccinations as a condition of attendance, although some exemptions are allowed.
But vaccine mandates have been a hot topic for Republicans, who have viewed them as encroachments on personal freedoms since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.
According to a CDC study published in January, vaccination rates for U.S. preschoolers have fallen for two straight years.
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Typically, 94% to 95% of preschoolers are vaccinated against measles, tetanus, and certain other diseases, but those rates dropped to less than 94% in the 2020-2021 school year, the first year of the pandemic, and dropped again to 93% in the 2020-2021 school year. 2021-22 school year, the study found.
Mississippi, Georgia and Wisconsin saw the strongest declines, the study found. Wisconsin student vaccination rates fell from 91.9% in 2020-21 to 88.7% in 2021-22, according to state health department data. The percentage of Wisconsin students not vaccinated due to personal conviction has grown from 2.7% in 2001-2002 to 4.6% in 2021-22.
CDC officials said the pandemic disrupted vaccinations and made it more difficult for schools to keep track of which students fell behind on injections, but also cited declining confidence in vaccines as another factor in the declines.
A poll conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation in December found less support among parents for school vaccine requirements compared to a 2019 survey. CDC data shows that vaccination rates for chickenpox fell more than rates for measles, mumps, and rubella.