Concerned parents seek to change wording of Colorado's non-medical vaccine exemption form

Sen. Lundberg: Current wording is compelled speech
Posted at 2:27 AM, Aug 20, 2016
and last updated 2016-08-21 23:48:07-04

DENVER -- School bells are ringing again across Colorado.

As kids head back to school, some parents, who opt not to vaccinate their children, are pushing back against some of the wording in the state’s new non-medical immunization exemption form.

That form reads in part: Failure to follow the advice of a physician, registered nurse, physician’s assistant or public health official who has recommended vaccines may endanger my child’s/my health or life and others who come into contact with my child/me.

State Senator Kevin Lundberg, Chair of the Senate Health and Human Services Committee says, “That (phrasing) amounts to compelled speech.” He said the state has no business trying to force parents to agree to something that they don’t believe is true.

The Senator told Denver7 that state health officials drew up the new forms themselves. He said state law only requires that parents, who want to “opt out” of the vaccination requirements, submit a note to their child’s school.

A group called CitizenGo has launched an online petition drive urging Governor Hickenlooper and legislative leaders to “immediately modify these forms and regulations to protect the privacy and freedom of Colorado families.”

Several parents have signed the petition. Among them, Arvada resident Nathan Charlan.

He saw the exemption form’s wording listed on the petition.

“The wording compels parents to have to admit something that isn’t true,” Charlan said. “It’s language that forces a parent to admit that they’re somehow putting their child in danger, because they are choosing what they think is best for their own child.”

“I just don’t believe big government should be telling me what I should or shouldn’t do with my child,” said Charlan’s wife, Renee, “especially with the thing that we’ve gone through with my son, who has a significant disability.”

“Our son (9-year old Zak) was born premature,” Nathan said. “He received his normal vaccination up until he was six months old. At six months, he started having seizures.”

Renee told Denver7 that their daughter, 4-year old Madison, who is adopted, also had health issues and is allergic to eggs, which some vaccines contain.

Now, the Charlans routinely study vaccinations, to learn what the risks and benefits are, before deciding which ones to have administered to their children.

“I think they need to be vaccinated against meningitis,” Nathan said. “We’ve had several friends whose children have died from meningitis.”

But the Arvada couple won’t be vaccinating their children against Hepatitis B.

“Our children, despite how bad people might think we are, are not sharing needles with anybody else and are not sexually active,” Mr. Charlan told Denver7. In other words, they face little to no risk of contracting that disease.

Charlan said he wants to see a change in the wording on the exemption form.

“It wasn’t there prior to this (new) form coming out in June. It doesn’t need to be there.”

Lundberg said it’s clear the state is trying to coerce parents into vaccinating their kids.

He said there are two forms, one for a medical exemption and one for a religious or personal (non-medical) exemption.

He said those who seek a medical exemption only have to fill it out once. Those who seek a religious or personal exemption for their children have to fill it out every year.

“Really, that’s the department trying to coerce families into not opting out,” he said.

Lundberg added that “schools are required to report exemption rates by December 1 of this year and every year after.”

For information about County level immunization rates, click on this link.                                      

-- Clients asking many questions -- 

Forest Townsley, who has been involved in alternative health care for many years, said this is a topic many clients ask about.

“They feel that the government is continuing to encroach on and will eventually require vaccinations across the board, without any exemptions,” he said. “They see this as a slippery slope toward more government control.”

Townsley said some clients tell him, “If I sign the exemption form the way it’s written, I’ve got to lie, because I don’t believe it would be a risk to other people.”

Townsley said he can see both sides.

“There is a place for vaccinations,” he told Denver7. “They’ve clearly done some good things for us over the last 20 to 30 years, but I think there’s a place for respecting parent’s rights to choose how they want their children medicated and treated.”

Denver7 asked the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment about the petition drive to get the language changed. A spokeswoman said, “we’re not going to comment because of the possibility of a lawsuit.”


Sign up for Denver7 email alerts to stay informed about breaking news and daily headlines.

Or, keep up-to-date by following Denver7 on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.