The Department of Health and Human Services would be barred from crafting future immunization-related rules, meaning any age- or dose-related updates would need legislative approval, under a pair of bills debated in committee Nov. 30.
HB 5162 and HB 5163 comes as parents with objections to child immunization told the House Oversight Committee how state and local health officials have been “overly zealous” in pursuing a pro-vaccination agenda by belittling those seeking a state exemption.
Joel Dorfman, of Michigan for Vaccine Choice, said DHHS has used the administrative rules process to “eviscerate” a state law that is neutral on child immunizations by treating citizens who don’t want to give their kids shots as “deviants who need coercion to mend their way.”
“(The bills) would send a message to DHHS that they can’t use the rules process to eviscerate the law,” Dorfman said.
Rep. Steve Johnson (R-Wayland Twp.) said HB 5162 and HB 5163 don’t change any current requirements. It only makes it clear that moving forward, DHHS can’t make any administrative rules regarding immunization. That includes alterations to vaccination schedules.
“This issue is so deeply personal that it should be made by a body that follows a Democratic process,” Johnson said.
Bob Swanson, DHHS’ program director of immunizations, walked the committee through the expansive administrative rules process that includes a trip through the Joint Committee on Administrative Rules reform, where lawmakers are free to raise objections.
He then discussed the technical nature of mapping out which vaccine should be given at which age as a detail “that shouldn’t need to go through the legislative process.”
Swanson said his job is ensuring the public’s health and “these bills would hinder us from doing our job and impact the health of the people in the state of Michigan.”
As it stands, Michigan is one of only a few states that allow immunization exemptions for medical, religious or philosophical reasons. Those who don’t want their children to receive the vaccines can already object, he said.
Rep. Joseph Graves (R-Argentine Twp.), chair of the House Oversight Committee, raised questions about whether all local public health departments were signing out of the same hymnal when dealing with anti-immunization parents. He held up a thick stack of cards from people who showed up to today’s meeting in support of the bills.
No action was taken on the bills and Rep. Kevin Hertel (D-St. Clair Shores) questioned whether there should be. He noted Johnson is the House chair of JCAR and if he has a problem with DHHS’ rules, nobody is in a better position to do something than he.
“To say that bureaucrats are running is amuck with no legislative oversight is disingenuous,” Hertel said.
This story presented in cooperation with MIRS, a Lansing-based news and information service.