State health officials seek to eliminate vaccination literacy rule

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OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – The time for the public to weigh in on a child vaccine rule reversal is running out, after the Oklahoma State Department of Health moved to permanently counter its own rules to promote vaccine education.

“We’re going to see a rise of vaccine preventable illness among our children,” said Dr. George Monks, the president of the Oklahoma State Medical Association.

Dr. Monks voiced the concern of many doctors as the number of Oklahoma parents who choose not to vaccinate their children grows.

Last June, the OSDH put in place a rule requiring any parent who wanted their children exempt from taking vaccines to undergo a session that educates on the safety and importance of vaccines against diseases like measles, polio, and Hepatitis A or Hepatitis B.

The idea was to provide science and fact-based information on vaccines which often counters misinformation spread online and through social media.

But in July, Health Commissioner Lance Frye filed an emergency order halting the requirement, saying it contradicted state statute.

“I’m really disappointed that the state health department is wanting to change their own rule already,” Dr. Monks said.

Now the state is moving to make the emergency order permanent.

On Wednesday, no one with the OSDH would answer questions about the decision in an interview. The OSDH Chief Administrative Officer, Jennifer Lepard, released a statement saying, 

OSDH supports vaccinations and encourages Oklahoma parents and legal guardians to vaccinate their children. The agency aims to increase the vaccination rate in Oklahoma by eliminating barriers to vaccination. Parents or legal guardians seeking a vaccine exemption on behalf of their child are required to submit a written statement to the State Department of Health – they are not required to first watch an instructional presentation due to an emergency rule change set to expire September 14, 2021. The rule changes now being pursued seek to make this emergency rule change permanent.

Jennifer Lepard, OSDH Chief Administrative Officer

The public is invited to share comments on the topic at a public hearing on Thursday morning from 9 a.m. to 12 p.m., or online through the OSDH website public comment section. The state will stop accepting public comments Thursday at 5 p.m.

“We don’t think it violates any statute and we really encourage the state department of health to continue its sound vaccination policy and not try to reverse this rule,” Dr. Monks said. “It’s just not a good decision.”

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