Republicans suspend new DHS student vaccine rules

By: - March 9, 2023 4:41 pm
Double masked teen getting vaccine

CDC photo

Republican lawmakers blocked for a second time updated vaccine requirements for students implemented by the state Department of Health Services on Thursday. 

The Joint Committee on the Review of Administrative Rules (JCRAR) voted 6-4 along party lines to suspend three recent updates. The decision removes the requirement that students receive the meningitis vaccine, the requirement that a physician, physician assistant, or advanced practice nurse prescriber must confirm a child’s history of chickenpox in order for the child to receive a vaccine exemption and removes both meningococcal and chickenpox from the list of diseases that DHS could exercise certain powers in the case of a “substantial outbreak.” 

“JCRAR, once again, met its oversight duty relating to the improper actions taken by DHS to enact binding administrative code provisions that were arbitrary and capricious, as well as, placing undue hardships on the families of this state,” committee co-chair Sen. Steve Nass (R-Whitewater) said in a statement. 

The suspension follows a nine-hour public hearing on Tuesday that included testimony from vaccine skeptics, who argued the rules were an abuse of the agency’s power and spoke about experiences being “vaccine injured.” 

“JCRAR’s suspension action restores the reasonable right of parents to make immunization decisions for their children regarding the meningitis vaccine and the process for exempting children that have had the chickenpox (varicella) disease from the vaccination mandate,” Nass said. 

DHS officials and other immunization experts who testified at the hearing said the updates were meant to help protect Wisconsinites by increasing accuracy and protecting against potential outbreaks.  

Previous rules said parents could verify a child’s history of chickenpox for exemption requests. DHS updated the rule to require a medical professional to verify cases, officials said, because chickenpox is increasingly rare and people don’t recognize the disease as well as they used to. Officials said the addition of the meningitis vaccine was necessary to protect people against the rare but serious disease. 

None of the updates changed Wisconsin’s other broad exemption rules that allow parents to opt students out of vaccinations for health, religious or personal conviction reasons. 

Democrats on the committee criticized the suspension of the rules. Sen. Kelda Roys (D-Madison) said in a statement to the Examiner that Republicans made a decision contrary to what the majority of Wisconsinites want. 

“Republican politicians keep bowing to extremism instead of doing what is right for the health of all Wisconsinites,” Roys said. “The overwhelming majority of Wisconsinites support immunization, because preventing communicable disease is the foundation of public health. Republican legislators who ignore science and health care providers make Wisconsin a less attractive place for people considering where to raise their families.” 

Rep. Samba Baldeh (D-Madison) explained his “no” vote in a statement, saying he trusts “the expertise of our medical professionals, the public health professionals at DHS and the CDC, and the scientists who work so incredibly hard to protect our communities from the threat of serious diseases.”

He added that opponents of the rules didn’t give him a “compelling reason” to trust them over scientists, and he “will not give in to arguments that undermine public health for us all.” 


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Baylor Spears
Baylor Spears

Baylor Spears is a staff reporter for the Wisconsin Examiner. She’s previously written for the Minnesota Reformer and Washingtonian Magazine. A Tennessee-native, she graduated with a degree in journalism from Northwestern University in June 2022.