Bill making childhood vaccines more accessible heads to Kentucky governor’s desk

By Sarah Ladd
Kentucky Lantern

A bill that would make routine vaccinations more accessible to Kentucky minors hit some snags in the Senate Friday but passed 26-11 after 15 minutes of debate.

House Bill 274, which passed the House chamber unanimously, would allow Kentucky pharmacies to continue administering vaccines to children ages 5-17 with parental or guardian consent. It is not a vaccine mandate. The bill can head to Gov. Andy Beshear’s desk now for a signature or veto.

Sen. Stephen Meredith (LRC photo)

Sen. Stephen Meredith, R-Leitchfield, carried the bill to the Senate floor.

“When you see a problem, you fix a problem,” Meredith said. “And the problem that we’re facing here is Kentucky’s facing a public health crisis in regard to childhood vaccinations.”

While Kentucky suffers from a lack of primary care and pediatric providers, Meredith said, “what we are blessed with are community pharmacists.”

The debate: ‘An outrage’

Sen. Adrienne Southworth, R- Lawrenceburg, said “It’s just really actually an outrage to see bills like this come through.”

“I know our pharmacists have been administering vaccines when we’re in a state of emergency,” said Southworth, who voted against the bill. “And we’re done with emergencies. In fact, I think it doesn’t make any sense at all to have it happen in emergencies anyway.”

Sen. Lindsey Tichenor, R-Smithfield, withdrew a floor amendment she’d filed seeking to clarify that employers had to offer employees medical or religious exemptions for vaccination.

She took issue with pharmacists potentially not knowing a child’s medical history when administering immunizations.

Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer spoke against the bill. (LRC photo)

“We can ignore adverse events of vaccines all day long, and the general public typically does,” said Tichenor, who voted against the bill. “But what if one kid gets affected because they had some allergy to an ingredient? Or they had some pre-condition they weren’t aware of, but the doctor might have been aware of, their pediatrician might have been aware of but that pharmacists might not have been aware of?”

She added: “It’s a little bit reckless to be issuing out vaccines that do have potentials for bad adverse events, and to be opening a door where it can be easy or easier, more accessible, with less oversight.”

In explaining her vote against the bill, Sen. Shelley Funke Frommeyer, R-Alexandria, questioned the safety and ingredients of vaccines.

“We are continuing to promote and advocate something that isn’t actually (in) your control. “We must own our health; we must be committed to our children’s health. This is not promoting health for our children; this is not promoting health for our families.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that common side effects from a vaccine include sore arms and low-grade fevers. The CDC reports the United States “has the safest, most effective vaccine supply in its history” and recommends a slate of routine shots including ones for measles, mumps and rubella, tetanus and flu vaccines.

Meredith, a retired hospital CEO, slammed his colleagues who voted against the bill.

“It’s easy to assume that people have access to care, particularly rural Kentucky. It’s not there. What do they do if they don’t have it?” he said. “That’s very easy to say, ‘just get in your car and drive a few miles up the road.’ If you think that way, then you don’t really understand rural Kentucky.”

The bill, he said, acts as a “band aid” to help the many health care challenges Kentucky faces.

“If you’re voting against this based on principle, you’re cheating the children of Kentucky, particularly rural Kentucky,” he said. “I can’t begin to tell you how disappointed I am in that.”

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