KS Senate committee approves anti-vaccine measure
Kansas parents could claim religious exemptions to any required school vaccines for their children without proving their religious beliefs under a bill passed by a Senate committee on Tuesday.
The Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee approved the policy combined with a measure that would prevent pharmacists from refusing to fill prescriptions for unproven and potentially dangerous treatments for COVID-19.
Both proposals were sponsored by Sen. Mark Steffen, a Republican and Hutchinson physician who has championed the “off-label” use of drugs such as the antiparasitic ivermectin for the virus. He revealed last week that he was being investigated by the Board of Healing Arts, the state’s medical licensing panel.
Kansas law requires children to be immunized against more than a dozen diseases, including polio, measles, diphtheria, mumps, rubella and chickenpox, but families can request religious exemptions. The anti-vaccination bill would prohibit schools or child care centers from questioning the sincerity of a family’s religious beliefs if they choose not to have their children vaccinated.
The measure follows sweeping religious exemptions granted to employees required to be vaccinated against COVID-19 during the November special session of the Legislative Assembly and extending it to all childhood vaccinations.
A Senate leadership spokesman said the bill was not yet scheduled for floor debate.
Lawmakers placed the combined proposal in a House bill using a procedural maneuver that could speed up the process and prevent the House from making amendments during debate. Some members of the committee objected to the speed with which the vaccination bill was reviewed.
“It’s not just a COVID-19 vaccine, it’s all childhood vaccinations and for us to not even have time to fully read the bill and be asked to vote on it is bad policy,” said Senator Kristen O’Shea, a Republican from Topeka.
It comes a day after House lawmakers passed a measure warning the state Council for the Healing Arts to proceed with ‘caution’ when investigating off-label drug treatments for Covid-19 – treatments that Steffen promoted. The state board has opened 50 investigations related to the virus, The Star reported.
Steffen is also one of four Republican senators to vote against Governor Laura Kelly’s veto of a proposed congressional district map that would make it harder for Democratic Rep. Sharice Davids to win re-election. Steffen changed his vote to “yes” when the Senate reconsidered Tuesday afternoon.
Steffen ignored questions from reporters Tuesday about why he changed his vote. But he told the Topeka Capital Journal on Monday that “personal freedom” was more important than any card – indicating that he may have conditioned his redistricting vote on the passage of the bill lifting the requirements in vaccines and legislation paving the way for off-label COVID treatments.
The Senate leadership declined to comment on Tuesday. Health committee chairman Sen. Richard Hilderbrand said he was not aware of any agreement reached with Steffen for his redistricting vote.
If the childhood vaccines and off-label drugs bill is approved in the Senate, it’s unclear how much attention it would get in the House.
At the House Appropriations Committee on Monday, House Health and Human Services Chair Brenda Landwehr, a Republican from Wichita, said she does not support such legislation.
“I think there’s just a lot of misinformation on this issue out there,” Landwehr said. “I would hate for us to make this a bigger issue…than what it actually is today.”
Rep. John Eplee, a Republican and Atchison’s physician, said he was concerned about growing anti-science and anti-health sentiment in the Legislative Assembly. Adjusting the Board of Healing Arts rules and opening up exemptions for childhood vaccinations, he said, solved a problem that didn’t exist.
Eplee said he had no problem prescribing ivermectin and hydroxychloroquine to patients when he thought it was appropriate and if the licensing board opened an investigation they probably had to. good reasons.
“They have to do their job and their job is to protect the public, I guarantee you won’t get a Board of Healing Arts investigation if you prescribe off-label drugs,” Eplee said. “It’s only done when a prescriber has had issues with the dosage or with the type of patient they’re prescribing it for.”
The approval of the anti-vaccine provision marks a major victory for activists. A fringe interest group that has received little attention, they have gained momentum during the pandemic and scored a major victory in the November special session.
Gretchen Homan, board member of the Immunize Kansas Coalition, said it was “reckless, harmful and dangerous” for the Senate Public Health and Welfare Committee to approve the bill.
“Less people will be vaccinated, we will have more outbreaks,” she said. “I don’t think the majority of Kansas State would support that and in fact they’re busy, they’re at work right now…that’s part of the concern is that they kind of don’t allow not the majority of Kansans to weigh in.
This story was originally published February 8, 2022 3:11 p.m.