Immunize Kansas Coalition
TOPEKA — Geovannie Gone, Immunize Kansas Coalition (IKC) Executive Director, shared concerns about how Senate Bill 315 will impact protections currently in place against vaccine-preventable diseases at Wednesday’s Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee Meeting.
Gone shared that Kansas should “maintain the current process for vaccine requirement exemptions for childcare and school entry; protect the freedom of private businesses to set vaccine requirements in the best interest of their employees and patrons; and keep students safe from meningitis outbreaks.”
Vaccine requirements are determined based on scientific recommendations for immunizations. These requirements keep children and adolescents safe by ensuring they are protected when at schools, where potential exposure to life-altering diseases is high.
Expanding exemptions is the first step in unraveling the critical work that has nearly eradicated diseases like polio, hepatitis, measles, mumps, and rubella. In a 2022 poll (https://nurturekc.org/kansans-support-vaccines/), 67 percent of Kansans rejected the idea that we should add more exemptions for wellness vaccines.
Although 56 percent agreed in principle that there should be a religious exemption, they believed the religious exemptions should be stricter in the following ways:
• 61 percent wanted religious leader documentation
• 65 percent wanted both parents to approve an exemption
• 64 percent wanted there to be an annual exemption review
Expanding exemptions by going against the majority of Kansans’ wishes discounts evidence and turns back the clock by several decades, failing to protect our children from preventable diseases.
SB 315 also seeks to take away the freedom of private businesses to have vaccine requirements in the workplace and determine what is in the best interest of their employees and patrons.
Employers have the right to protect their employees and customers and establish employee qualifications that include health and safety standards.
Consider the implications of preventing employers in sectors such as veterinarian care, agriculture, laboratories, septic services, hospitality and food service from setting workplace safety standards to keep their employees and customers safe from diseases such as foodborne and waterborne Hepatitis A, body fluid transmissible Hepatitis B, and Tetanus that can be transmitted from soil, dust, and waste through puncture wounds and cuts.
We are concerned about the implications for schools and employers requiring vaccines such as typhoid to protect international travelers. Finally, we are concerned for the impacts on hospitals, long-term care, and our most vulnerable Kansans, especially for those at high-risk for contracting and having complications from vaccine-preventable diseases (e.g. immunocompromised, infants, elderly).
Workplace vaccination requirements as set by employers are crucial to protect their workforce, as well as those they serve. Finally, SB 315 seeks to repeal the requirement to be vaccinated against meningitis to live in student housing. Meningococcal meningitis is very serious and can be deadly.
While the incidence is rare, infants, teens, and young adults have the highest rates of meningococcal disease in the United States. College students living in group housing are at increased risk for contracting this disease. (See Andy Marso’s book Worth the Pain: How Meningitis Nearly Killed Me–Then Changed My Life for the Better).
In addition to the morbidity and mortality risks (including hearing loss, neurologic disability, and loss of a limb), the medical cost burden for patients with invasive meningococcal disease is significant.
Vaccines can help prevent meningococcal disease. Though there are many causes of meningitis beyond those covered by the vaccines, the best prevention at this time is through vaccination.
Kansas must maintain the current process for vaccine requirement exemptions for childcare and school entry; protect the freedom of private businesses to set vaccine requirements in the best interest of their employees and patrons; and keep students safe from meningitis by safeguarding the meningococcal vaccination requirement to live in student housing.