Less than six months after the official end of the Minnesota measles outbreak, a group notorious for spreading childhood vaccine misinformation is holding a secretive reception in Minneapolis to convince state legislators to sign onto its dangerous agenda.
Exactly what policy changes the Vaccine Safety Council of Minnesota is seeking during the 2018 session is unclear. The invitation for hors d'oeuvres at the Minneapolis Club clearly states that the event is for lawmakers only. A spokeswoman for the reception said the media is not welcome.
The "council," which led an anti-vaccination event during last year's measles outbreak, did not respond to an editorial writer's other questions, such as who is paying for the reception? And is there legislation already drafted for the 2018 session for which reception sponsors are seeking support? Apparently, those seeking critical public health policy changes in Minnesota don't want Minnesotans to know what they're up to.
Shame on any lawmaker who shows up or signs on. The 2017 measles outbreak sickened 79 people between April 11 and Aug. 25, when state health officials declared the outbreak over. Chillingly, 73 cases involved children under 10, and 71 had not been vaccinated.
Lawmakers should be focused on preventing another outbreak. A sensible policy response: ensuring that more Minnesota children get the widely available, generally inexpensive shots to protect them from measles and other diseases. To do that, lawmakers should tighten the state's lax vaccine-exemption laws.
Compared to other states, parents here are currently given broad personal discretion to opt out of required school-aged immunizations. That's a problem when anti-vaccination propaganda proliferates online and groups such as the vaccine council are so active in Minnesota. Last year's outbreak hit the state's Somali-American community hard — a group that has been targeted by anti-vaccine groups, which continue to spread the scientifically debunked falsehood that the shots cause autism.
The current exemption allowed for "philosophical" reasons should be scrapped. That said, a more moderate bill championed last year by state Reps. Mike Freiberg, DFL-Golden Valley, and Jennifer Schultz, DFL-Duluth, still merits support. It would require parents to consult with a doctor first if they want an immunization opt-out.
That would at least ensure that parents are relying on accurate information as they weigh this decision — one that affects not only their child but protects others from contagious diseases. Passing this ought to be a no-brainer. That anti-vaccination groups are already at work again in Minnesota so soon after the 2017 measles outbreak lends urgency to act.
The Minnesota Medical Association has long pushed to tighten vaccine exemptions. Lawmakers should listen to the association's physician members instead of fringe groups. Said Dave Renner of the Minnesota Medical Association: "Whenever we talk to our doctors about this, they are just dumbfounded that we can't get this passed."