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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Republican Bills Advocate For Vaccine Exemptions

The House chamber at the Montana Legislature during the 2019 session.
Nick Mott
Montana Public Radio
The House chamber at the Montana Legislature.

On Wednesday, a county in Washington state declared a public health emergency because of an outbreak of measles, a vaccine-preventable infectious disease. Today, Montana’s Legislature heard two bills proposing more options to opt out of vaccines, and to let the public know about those options. 

Before kids enter the school system or child care they’re required to receive vaccinations against polio, chicken pox, measles and other infectious diseases. However in Montana, like many other states, there are exemptions for religious or medical reasons.

Jim Murphy with the Montana Department of Public Health and Human Services told lawmakers today that other measures to prevent disease spread, like wearing a surgical mask, don’t work as well as vaccines.

“That is the best tool that we have to protect vulnerable populations," he says. 

Senate Bill 99, carried by Republican Billings Sen. Cary Smith, would require any communication from a school regarding immunization to include information about exemption options.

Corrie Meza, with Montanans for Vaccine Choice, says schools don’t always let parents know about exemptions allowing them to opt out of immunization.

“We’re not here to advocate for decisions to be made for others, or give the government the authority to make such divine choices that belong solely to the individual and to parental rights,” Meza says. 

Several others in support of the idea said immunization goes against their religious beliefs and schools should always let parents know how to opt out.

Doctors say it’s important that a substantial number of people in a given community, like a school, are vaccinated, because that keeps chains of infection from spreading.

A second bill, SB 23, carried by Kalispell Republican Sen. Keith Regier, would require employers to accommodate their workers that don’t want to be vaccinated for any reason, including medical and religious reasons.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, vaccination is highly effective and on-time immunization in children is, “essential because it helps provide immunity before children are exposed to potentially life-threatening diseases.” The CDC says vaccines are tested to ensure that they are safe and effective.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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