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In a move that doesn't surprise this former Arizona resident in the least, health officials in Arizona have killed off an online vaccine education program after some anti-vaxxer parents complained about its very existence. The state that brought us the political careers of Evan Goddamned Mecham, Joe Arpaio, Jan Brewer, Kelli Ward, and Congressman Paul Gosar, DDS, has once again lowered the bar and is now looking at Florida, Texas, and Idaho, just daring them to try something even more craven. Sad thing is, someone's bound to top this almost immediately.


Here, we'll let the Arizona Republic tell you the horrible details:

The pilot online course, modeled after programs in Oregon and Michigan, was created in response to the rising number of Arizona schoolchildren skipping school-required immunizations against diseases like measles, mumps and whooping cough because of their parents' beliefs.

But some parents, who were worried the optional course was going to become mandatory, complained to the Governor's Regulatory Review Council, which reviews regulations to ensure they are necessary and do not adversely affect the public.

The council received a bunch of emailed complaints from about 120 anti-vaxxers -- 20 of whom were parents -- who feared big government would force them to vaccinate their kids, drink fluoridated water, and probably be sold to Hillary Clinton's sex dungeons. Members of the review council questioned the state's health department, and then state health officials simply cancelled the program. This is, of course, insane.

"We're so sorry we couldn't make a go of this — strong forces against us," Brenda Jones, immunization services manager at the Arizona Department of Health Services, wrote in an Aug. 6 email to a Glendale school official, along with a notification about the course's cancellation [...]

"I'm not sure why providing 'information' is seen as a negative thing," said state Rep. Heather Carter, R-Cave Creek, who spent the last three legislative sessions as chairwoman of the House Health Committee and helped create the pilot program.

"Providing information doesn't take away a parent's choice to seek an exemption. [...] This is a major concern. Vaccines have saved lives for generations. We all want to live in safe and healthy communities."

Nothing in the Republic's coverage really explains why the health officials simply folded instead of offering to tweak the program or the information surrounding it. Those who complained about the program seemed more worried about the threat of the state making it harder for them to opt out of vaccinating their kids than about the educational materials themselves.

[Most] were under the impression that they would be forced to take the course in order to obtain a personal belief vaccine exemption form. Many admitted they had not seen the course, but opposed it on principle. [...]

Although the state never proposed the course be mandatory, wording on the state Health Department's website left that impression.

That seems like a really good argument for revising the website, not throwing out the vaccination education program, which had run as a pilot program through 17 schools in Maricopa County during the 2017-18 academic year. The course's message was simple and fact-based: Vaccinating children against disease is much, much safer than the risks of the diseases vaccines prevent.

It's a message that's especially needed in Maricopa County, where enough kindergarteners have gone without vaccinations that many elementary schools no longer have "herd immunity" -- the rate of vaccination necessary to protect the general population, including those who can't be vaccinated, such as newborns, people with autoimmune disease, cancer patients getting chemo, and so on. Which is why we don't really understand the second thing this health official says here:

"We are seeing an increase in vaccine exemptions and that is concerning because that does put us at greater risk for spread of disease, particularly outbreaks that could have been preventable," said Jessica Rigler, branch chief for public health preparedness at the Arizona Department of Health Services.

"It's difficult to actively offer education and that is something we are really trying to brainstorm."

Guys! Sounds like you actually had a pilot program that was pretty good, but a website that needed clarification, and you pulled the education program after complaints from a bunch of people whose relationship with reality is not exactly monogamous anyway.

The story offers a few sample emails from the feedback, and they're mostly complaints about the prospect of being forced to learn about vaccines, not about the course itself:

"In my experience, parents who have a personal belief against vaccines have already performed countless hours of extensive research on the benefits and risks of vaccines," one parent wrote on July 26. "A one-sided video is not going to change their minds and therefore it is a waste of government resources as well."

The course appears to be an attempt to, "create an emotional response, creating fear and pressure in order to compel parents to vaccinate," one set of parents wrote on July 25. "Do lawmakers think we're stupid?"

Lawmakers might not, but we sure do.

At least one parent who wrote to the review council worried Arizona officials would be too quick to give in to anti-vaxxers' fear-mongering. Pity that writer was right.

Dr. Rebecca Sunenshine, the Maricopa County Department of Public Health's medical director for disease control, said virtually all the schools that participated in the pilot program said they wanted to use it again, and that other schools had asked to be included. So maybe once health officials reframe the thing to make clear that George Soros will not be injecting children with globalism, the program can resume. Arizona is one of 17 states that allow a "personal belief" exemption from vaccinations, and Sunenshine said the state's exemption policy is one of the broadest of the bunch.

"All you have to do is fill out a form. You don't need a doctor's signature," Sunenshine said. "Our laws make it so easy to exempt children from immunizations."

To be clear, she makes clear elsewhere in the piece she doesn't think that's a wonderful thing. It's abundantly clear that Arizona, for now, is nowhere close to enacting any restrictions on those exemptions, and probably years away from following California's example and eliminating all but medical exemptions for vaccinations. But here's hoping state officials at least find enough spine to get the vaccine education program back online before a deadly outbreak of preventable disease demonstrates why knuckling under to anti-science nuts is a bad idea.

[Arizona Republic]

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