County Board passes state immunization advisory resolution
By Jalen Maki
Tomahawk Leader Co-Editor
The Lincoln County Board of Supervisors passed a resolution requesting the Wisconsin Legislature to end the use of personal conviction waivers for school and day care center immunizations at its meeting on Tuesday, Sept. 17 at the William Buedingen Training Center in Tomahawk. The original version of the resolution requested the end of religious conviction waivers as well, but that language was ultimately removed.
Lincoln County Health Director Shelley Hersil said that although immunizations are required for daycare- and school-aged children, parents or guardians can waive those requirements for “personal reasons, religious belief reasons or medical reasons.” She went on to explain that, due to parents and guardians choosing to waive vaccinations for their children, an increase in the prevalence of vaccine-preventable diseases has been seen both statewide and around the country.
In Lincoln County, about 8% of school-age students are unvaccinated, Hersil said, noting that of the roughly 4,300 students in Lincoln County, there have been 315 personal waivers and 43 religious waivers.
“We do know that vaccines keep children safe,” Hersil stated. “They keep them healthy. They are proven to work, and that’s why we don’t see the diseases we used to, but now we are, because people are choosing not to vaccinate.”
Hersil went on to explain that there appeared to be momentum in the state to eliminate personal waivers for vaccinations, and that all counties are considering resolutions to do so. She added that most states do not allow personal waivers, and that some don’t allow religious waivers.
District 11 Supervisor Hans Breitenmoser ultimately voted against the measure, saying before the vote, “We shouldn’t force people to put things in their body that they don’t want in their body. You can say, ‘Well, then don’t attend public school,’ but I don’t think that’s a fair choice. I haven’t seen enough science that says that the kids who aren’t immunized are putting those who are at great risk. The kids who are immunized, that’s why they’re immunized, so that they stay healthy.”
District 13 Supervisor Calvin Callahan expressed his concern with the resolution, saying it “takes away the freedom for people to follow their religious beliefs.”
Hersil pointed to measles as an example of a disease that would be brought into schools by unvaccinated students, and that due to how contagious it is, other unvaccinated students would contract the disease.
“I think we have to remember that some of these diseases have (not been present) because of vaccines,” Hersil said. “There are physicians right now that have never seen measles because we haven’t had it around us. But now we’re starting to, and they know it’s because people are not vaccinated.”
Numerous other Supervisors voiced their opinions on the measure. District 10 Supervisor Jeremy Ratliff shared his view that “we can’t allow the government to dictate to our parents what they can and can’t do with their children. That’s our right as parents.”
District 4 Supervisor Derek Woellner noted that most other states considering the measure were focused on removing only the personal waiver, adding, “I don’t agree that this is a case of the government stepping in. We are the government. I think that it’s in our interest to protect the population as a whole, and vaccines have been proven effective on that front. … We have to do something here. We’re already at 8% of people not being immunized.”
Woellner went on to reference “herd immunity,” which Hersil explained as, “Those who are vaccinated protect those who are not vaccinated” because of high vaccination numbers. A 90% immunization rate is generally referred to as the benchmark for herd immunity, it was noted. Lincoln County is currently at roughly 92%.
The amended advisory resolution ultimately passed 20 to 2 after further discussion and an amendment by Callahan to remove the language regarding the end of religious conviction waivers. The resolution will be sent to the State Legislature for consideration.
The next meeting of the Lincoln County Board of Supervisors will be Tuesday, Oct. 15, at 6 p.m. at the Lincoln County Service Center, 801 N. Sales St., Merrill.