CLEVELAND — Not only are there lingering concerns about COVID, but as kids head back to school there are also worries about serious diseases from the past popping up again. Plus, there’s a new "medical freedom" debate at the state level that could change Ohio’s constitution.
“My kids have all their vaccines,” said Shelby Detrick from Richfield, who had just gotten her 4-year-old daughter Stella a shot from the doctor’s office on the day we caught up with them. “I think vaccines are really important to help stop the spread of disease."
A PUSH FOR TRADITIONAL VACCINES
The vast majority of medical professionals agree.
“It’s really one of the modern miracles of science and saves millions of lives across Ohio and worldwide,” said Dr. Hanna Lemerman from Akron Children’s Hospital. She has seen the low vaccine rates of some kindergarteners; the same data we were first to tell you about months ago that showed large percentages of kids in area schools and across the state are missing shots for things like measles, diphtheria, and whooping cough.
Search for your elementary school and see how many kindergartners were vaccinated for the 2020-2021 school year below:
“The pediatric community and the scientific community need to get back out there to reassure parents that vaccines are safe,” Lemerman said.
That’s why Akron Children’s has a new campaign: “Don’t wait to vaccinate.”
“It may not be your wellness visit but every time that you’re here at the pediatrician’s office is a great time to check to see if your children are up to date on their vaccines,” Lemerman said.
OH SCHOOL NURSES, PEDIATRICIANS RESPOND
Our reporting found state departments rely only on local school nurses, administrators, and school boards to enforce Ohio vaccination laws.
“When you have all these unfunded mandates, and you don’t staff accordingly for what you are requiring, it can be really difficult on school districts,” said Heidi Shaw, the President of the Ohio Association of School Nurses.
She said there’s also a definite need to help parents.
“What are the barriers of them actually getting these things done? Is it information? The parents just don’t know?” she said.
Medical leaders told us it’s more important now than ever after Ohio saw a measles outbreak in 2014 and a national measles outbreak in 2019. In that event, the CDC reports 89% of those cases were in unvaccinated people.
There’s even a new case of polio in New York.
“We’re starting to see these eradicated diseases come back,” said Melissa Were Arnold. She’s the CEO of the Ohio Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics. She said supporters of vaccinations have to be louder than those against vaccines.
“I think people need to talk about the fact that they are vaccinated," Arnold said. "That’s a public health expectation.”
'MEDICAL FREEDOM' GROUP WANTS NEW AMENDMENT
All of these efforts come at a time when a group in Ohio is pushing for a new state constitutional amendment. The group knows students have vaccine exemptions, but the proposed amendment calls for even wider medical freedom.
“We won’t stop fighting. This is the right thing to do,” said Stephanie Stock, the President of Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom. Among other things, they don’t want employer-based medical rules.
“Disease exists. It has existed for centuries,” said Stock. “We as a society have survived prior to vaccines. We will continue to survive.”
The proposed amendment states people have the “right to refuse any medical procedure, treatment, injection, vaccine…” and so forth. And that “no law…employer… entity… shall require…any person to receive…treatment, injection, vaccine…” and more. See the full proposed amendment verbiage below.
If passed by voters, Ohio would be the only state in the U.S. to have a medical freedom constitutional amendment.
“It keeps me up at night. It makes me incredibly worried,” said Shaw about the medical freedom group’s efforts.
“Do you feel the science is there that proves that vaccines are effective?” we asked Stock.
“It’s not up to me to make that decision. It’s up to each individual person to make that decision,” she replied.
“By taking it to this extreme, it really puts handcuffs on public health when there is a problem,” Arnold said. “I think what they’re doing is dangerous.”
“Any organization that thinks freedom is dangerous, I would like to question their patriotism,” said Stock. “And maybe this isn’t the right country for them.”
In the midst of these debates, Detrick told us she’ll continue to support vaccinations despite the medical freedom group’s efforts.
“When that starts to affect other people’s health and other people’s freedom to keep themselves healthy and safe, then I don’t think that’s right,” said Detrick.
The medical freedom group has until November to gather 442,000 valid signatures in order to put the proposed amendment on the May 2023 ballot.
Meanwhile, the medical community encourages all people to get scientifically-backed vaccines that are safe and effective.
Here’s the full wording of the proposed amendment from Ohio Advocates for Medical Freedom:
“Section 22: Medical Right to Refuse
(A) An individual’s right to refuse any medical procedure, treatment, injection, vaccine, prophylactic, pharmaceutical, or medical device shall be absolute.
(B) No law, rule, regulation, person, employer, entity, or healthcare provider shall require, mandate, or coerce any person to receive or use a medical procedure, treatment, injection, vaccine, prophylactic, pharmaceutical, or medical device nor shall they discriminate against the individual who exercises this right.
(C) No other provision of the Ohio Constitution shall impair or limit the rights contained herein.”