Even With Measles Cases At A High, Colorado Vaccination Bill Didn't Make It

May 3, 2019

This story was updated May 3, 2019 at 3:40 p.m.

Measles cases have reached a 19-year high in the U.S., but a bill in Colorado aimed at improving childhood vaccination rates didn’t succeed. It didn’t really fail, either. It just got mired in super-long hearings, pushback from the governor and, ultimately, a legislative schedule that ran out of time before the bill could reach the Senate.

“I’m still today trying to figure out exactly what happened,” says Rep. Kyle Mullica, who sponsored the bill.

Colorado is one of more than a dozen states that allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their kids based on personal reasons, as opposed to medical or religious ones. The state’s kindergarteners are the least vaccinated in the nation when it comes to the measles, mumps and rubella vaccine.

Other states are looking at banning non-medical exemptions altogether. Mullica’s bill would have made it just a little bit harder to opt out of vaccines for personal reasons, requiring parents to submit a form in person to a local health office rather than dropping it off at school.

“We’re at a real risk of an outbreak here in Colorado, being last in the country with our kindergarten vaccination, and yet we see states that have better vaccination rates than we do taking this issue more seriously,” says Mullica. “We need to be better.”

A vaccination rate of about 95 percent is considered necessary for herd immunity from measles.
Credit Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment

The Denver Post reports Senate Democrats delayed debate on the bill as the legislative session entered its final days, “effectively killing its chances of becoming law.”

The CDC has found that, with the exception of Nevada, Mountain West states have some of the lowest vaccination rates against measles, mumps and rubella for kindergarteners in the nation. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, Nevada, Wyoming and Montana are among states that allow exemptions for religious or medical reasons. Colorado, Utah and Idaho are among a smaller group of states that, in addition, allow parents to opt out of vaccinating their kids for personal or philosophical reasons. Utah parents must complete an online education module in order to exempt their kids from vaccination.

According to the latest numbers, so far more than 700 cases of measles have been reported this year.

This story was produced by the Mountain West News Bureau, a collaboration between Wyoming Public Media, Boise State Public Radio in Idaho, KUER in Salt Lake City and KRCC and KUNC in Colorado.