Bill would allow children to attend school without vaccines

Opponent: ‘Montana children would become an experiment’

By: - February 17, 2021 8:39 pm

Wednesday, members of the medical and scientific community blasted a bill that would allow children to attend school without being vaccinated.

They repeated concerns —this is a dangerous bill; it puts the public at risk; this is highly concerning — as they challenged a move to expand the definition of immunization to include immunotherapy or homeoprophylaxis, a controversial treatment that isn’t backed by medical science.

“This bill I didn’t think was going to be this controversial,” said Rep. Ed Hill, R-Havre. “I thought it was just going to modernize the definition here.”

A June 2019 report from the Guardian said the idea of homeoprophylaxis, linked to anti-vaxxer theories, has started to have a “profound impact on public health.” The story noted measles outbreaks as one outcome.

At the hearing on House Bill 332, Montana public health expert Cora Neumann said without actual vaccinations, Montana risks experiencing those measles outbreaks that have taken place in other states — and she said the burden would be severe on rural and Native communities.

“Conventional vaccines are still the gold standard,” Neumann said.

Just one person testified in favor of the bill. Jenna Dodge, who introduced herself as a certified classical homeopath and practitioner of homeoprophylaxis, HP, said the treatment has been used for more than 200 years.

In Cuba after severe hurricanes, people were at high risk for a disease, but infrastructure problems made vaccinations difficult, she said. She said a vaccine manufacturer presented HP as an alternative, and as a result, cases in the region declined from 96 to 33 in one month; in the control group, she said, cases doubled.

“It can be used to stimulate immunity in cases where no vaccine exists,” Dodge said.

The journal Homeopathy discussed the treatment in Cuba, and in an abstract it noted HP may be a feasible tool for “epidemic control.” It said further research is warranted. (It noted vaccines are effective but less so in an emergency.)

Jule Walker, with the Montana School Boards Association, said the organization was concerned that using a definition of immunity that did not match peer-reviewed research would risk disease outbreaks at public schools. She said current standards are based in science and designed to keep students, staff and families safe.

“Now is not the time to deviate from science,” Walker said.

Lauren Wilson, a pediatrician who testified on behalf of the Montana Medical Association, also said the bill employs misuse and misunderstanding of the term “immunotherapy,” which is used in the treatment of cancer or severe allergies, but does not protect against disease.

Marian Kummer, a pediatrician who practiced in Billings for 36 years, said even the Society of Homeopaths does not permit its practitioners to offer homeoprophylaxis. The society’s website notes practitioners should direct patients with questions about vaccinations to their general practitioners or public health departments.

Kummer warned of a serious consequence should the bill pass.

“Montana children would become an experiment for homeoprophylaxis,” Kummer said. “We do not think this would be in the best interest of our children.”

Missoula City-County Health Department nurse Colleen Morris said vaccines are critical to preventing and controlling infectious disease outbreaks. If children aren’t vaccinated, she said Montana will see more cases of preventable disease, especially in schools, along with more medical costs, more missed classes for children, and more missed work for parents.

“Now, especially during a pandemic, is not the time to open up the door to alternative therapies that have little or no research to support their use,” Morris said.

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Keila Szpaller
Keila Szpaller

Keila Szpaller is deputy editor of the Daily Montanan and covers education. In Montana since 1998, she loves hiking in Glacier National Park, wandering the grounds of the Archie Bray and sitting on her front porch with friends. Before joining States Newsroom Montana, she served as city editor of the Missoulian, the largest news outlet in western Montana. She worked there from 2006 to 2020. As a Missoulian reporter, she was named a co-fellow by the Education Writers Association to report on a series about economic mobility; grantee of the Society of Environmental Journalists for a project on conservation from the U.S. to Africa; and Kiplinger Fellow in Digital Media and Public Affairs Journalism. She previously worked at the Great Falls Tribune and Missoula Independent, and she earned her master’s in journalism from the University of Montana. She lives in Missoula with her husband, Brock, who is also her favorite chef, and her pup, Henry, who is her favorite adventure companion. She believes she deserves to wear the T-shirt with this saying: “World’s most mediocre runner.”

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