People speak against Hill's immunization bill
Last updated 2/19/2021 at 12:26pm
Havre's freshman Rep. Ed Hill, a Republican, had his first hearing on his first bill this week, with one person speaking in support and a number of people speaking against his proposal to change Montana's immunization laws, saying it would endanger the health of school children and other Montana residents and could lead to outbreaks of diseases eradicated in the state for decades.
House Bill 332 was heard Wednesday in the House Education Committee, with Hill saying it is just a bill to modernize definitions of immunization and immunizing agent.
His bill adds "due to infection or recovery from a disease" to the definition of immunization and states immunizing agent "means an antigen introduced through a vaccine, through immunotherapy, or through homeoprophylaxis that stimulates immunity without inducing the disease itself."
Hill said when he was a Havre School Board member he thought the definitions in the laws on immunization were contradictory and now that he is a lawmaker thought he would take action on it.
"Over the years, it just kind of drove me crazy," he said. "I thought I would like to change this."
"It is, I hate to say the word simple, but it's just modernizing the definition," he said.
He said after researching the topic he found that the topic includes some big, scary words, but immunizing agent includes immunotherapy, a word he said he had never heard before, and homeoprophylaxis, using homoepathy, the belief the body can heal itself, to immunize.
Certified homeopath Jenna Dodge testified in favor of the bill, citing an example in Cuba where the techniques were used to suppress an outbreak of disease following a hurricane.
She said the techniques are based on the same principle as vaccination.
But 10 others spoke strongly against it, including Rural Education Association Executive Director Dennis Parman, a former Havre superintendent, who said the majority of people from all of the groups in the state Public Education Center including his oppose the bill.
Presenters also offered other testimony against the bill in writing.
Jule Walker representing the Montana School Board Association said the proposed definitions included are not supported by peer-reviewed research of any kind.
"With the impositions on regular life created by the COVID-19 pandemic, now is not the time to deviate from science," she said.
Vicky Byrd, CEO of the Montana Nurses Association, and others said the U.S. Food and Drug Administration and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention must review and approve all vaccines before their use, and they approve no homeopathic treatments.
If the bill passed, it would violate federal regulation and lead to FDA citing the state, she said.
Jim Murphy, administrator of the Public Health and Safety Division of the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services, said DPHHS opposes the bill as written after careful review.
He said nothing backs up calling those methods immunizing agents.
"While immunotherapy is recognized as a treatment, and Rep. Hill defined it as a treatment, we're talking about a prevention with respect to immunization. We can find nothing supporting using immunotherapy as a prevention method for the common diseases that are targeted in this area of the statute," he said, adding, "Hemopropholaxis, essentially there is nothing that is FDA- or CDC-approved in the homeopathy world that would replace a vaccine. Homeopathy treatments are not good substitutes for immunizations."
Public health expert Cora Neumann said passing the bill could lead to major outbreaks of diseases the likes of which Montana has not seen in decades.
"Imagine a future with measles and whooping cough outbreaks and even the return of polio right here in Montana," she said. " ... The reason we can't imagine these outbreaks here is because decades of vaccination coverage have protected us, but these outbreaks are happening in other states, ... Weakening vaccine mandates and regulations will end the herd immunity we have worked tirerelessly throughout tthe last century to achieve."
Retired pediatrician Marion Kummer, representing the American Society of Pediatricians and the Montana Primary Care Association, said vaccines are proven to be effective, with millions of lives saved and billions vaccinated, while homeoprophylaxis is unproven.
The law would bring people who oppose vaccination to Montana, the numbers vaccinated would go down and that likely would lead to outbreaks, she said.
"Montana children will become an experiment, Kummer said, "We do not think this is in the best interest of our children."