HUDSON — Opponents of legislation that would prohibit Wisconsinites from seeking personal conviction waivers for vaccinations took their case to a St. Croix County panel.
Several Hudson residents pleaded with the St. Croix County Health and Human Services Committee Wednesday, Nov. 14, to join them in opposition to the legislation, which has stalled in the Legislature.
The group included Dr. Ed Hagen, an OB/GYN practitioner who urged committee members not to let the government intervene in parents’ medical decisions for their children. Vaccination studies have been inclusive on overall safety, he said.
“I strongly urge the government to stay out of families’ choice on what they do for their children” unless the government can offer guarantees, Hagen said. “I don’t think the government should mandate that people have vaccines.”
Hudson resident Rachel McCardle was among five others who spoke in support of personal conviction waivers. She cited a lack of access to studies on the topic of vaccinations’ effects, which she said should give public officials pause.
“Every medical procedure and every medicine comes with risk,” McCardle said. “And where there is a risk, there must be a choice.”
Wisconsin law allows families to opt out of mandatory school vaccinations through a personal conviction waiver. Bipartisan legislation sought to eliminate that provision.
While the Legislature’s 2019 session concluded without action on the bills, the issue of vaccinations came up before St. Croix County’s HHS committee earlier in the year, when members learned fewer than 60% of local 5-year-olds were on schedule with recommended vaccinations. About 6% of families obtained personal conviction waivers during the 2018-19 school year in St. Croix County, Public Health Administrator Kelli Engen reported at that meeting.
Wisconsin also allows religious and medical reasons as exceptions to vaccine requirements.
Dave Ostness, a County Board member who chairs the HHS committee, said neither Republicans nor Democrats wanted to touch the issue this year.
“It’s in a stagnant stage right now,” he said.
County Board member Dan Fosterling, who also sits on the HHS committee, suggested the issue should be revisited.
HHS Director Fred Johnson said he would confer with Engen about efforts made by the St. Croix County Immunization Coalition before the issue is heard again by the panel. Committee and County Board member Buck Malick supported that, saying the committee would not want to be “in ignorance of what they are doing.”