Bills would limit state ability to mandate vaccines

By Kelcy Dolan
Posted 3/22/16

After the Department of Health (HEALTH) mandated all 7th graders receive at least one dose of the HPV vaccine for school inclusion last summer, parents across the state were outraged.

There were …

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Bills would limit state ability to mandate vaccines


After the Department of Health (HEALTH) mandated all 7th graders receive at least one dose of the HPV vaccine for school inclusion last summer, parents across the state were outraged.

There were public meetings held by both HEALTH and grassroots organizations such as the Rhode Island Alliance for Vaccine Choice (RIAVC) and the Rhode Island Against Mandated HPV. This back and forth led to some concessions. Students would not be excluded from school this year and it became increasingly easier to opt out of the vaccine, which prevents against one of the most common sexually transmitted infections, the human papillomavirus.

Now, though, those parental outcries have reached the State House and the House Committee on Health Education and Welfare heard two bills last Wednesday, both introduced by Representative Justin Price. One bill would institute a philosophical exemption from vaccines for non-communicable diseases and would require the department to hold public meetings every time a vaccine is being considered for a mandate.

Surprisingly, the department neither submitted written testimony nor did they have a representative speak at the hearing.

Joseph Wendelken, acting public information officer for HEALTH, said in an email that the department has not taken an official position on the legislation and had no comment on it, despite the bills having a direct affect on HEALTH’s operations.

On the other end, the hearing was packed with parents supporting the measures. Both bills were held for further study.

Price said he introduced the bills because parents have the right to make a decision for themselves and their families in opting out or in voicing their opinions at public hearings.

“This way it’s not just the Department of Health and the CDC making decisions for everyone,” Price said. “The public has the opportunity to have an input in what immunizations pass.”

Most of the concern stemmed from HEALTH’s apparent lack of transparency in moving forward with the mandate and its ability to do so with seemingly no oversight.

Christopher Black, a chiropractic doctor and father, argued that although there may be a lot of testimony from doctors and experts opposing his own views the beauty is that both sides have the opportunity to present their opinions and views, something that didn’t happen for the HPV mandate.

“We have no voice when it comes to the Department of Health,” he said. “We have given them that power and the right to do the same with the hundreds of vaccines in the pipeline if we don’t change it. We should be allowed an open forum just like we are today.”

Debra O’Leary’s biggest fear is that HEALTH can pass these mandates with no accountability should a child experience a serious side effect from a vaccine. She had no idea about the possibility of a mandate previous to its passing and believes that it wasn’t publicized enough to allow for parents to have an opportunity to learn more about the vaccine or to make a statement.

She said, “Parents deserve the right to informed consent. They are the most important figures in the care of a child, more than the state and more than the Department of Health. Where there is risk there has to be choice.”

With so many bills being heard, many of those who signed up to speak in opposition had already left. Before he left Peter Pogacar, a representative from the Rhode Island chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said he understood parents’ rights to choice, but sometimes it is just “a slap to the face of science.”

The debate seems to have caused a lot of contention between doctors and patients. Kristen Pierson testified that her pediatrician, who her family has been seeing for more than 12 years, dropped the Piersons immediately when she opted out of the HPV vaccine. She claimed that he said he was insulted she wouldn’t let her children have the vaccine, and the family is still struggling to find a new doctor.

“When the department was originally given this power we were afraid of highly contagious diseases like small pox or very dangerous ones like polio, but medicine has come a long way since then,” Pierson said. “HPV can only be spread sexually, and that shouldn’t be happening during the school day, so why wouldn’t they just recommend this vaccine?”

Although everyone who spoke was in support of the bills, some speakers believed that they didn’t do enough.

Both Aimee Gardner, director of the RI Against Mandated HPV, and Shawna Lawton, secretary of RIAVC, wanted to see additions to both bills, to repeal the HPV mandate completely but also to add stipulations to the public hearings HEALTH would have to hold.

Gardner argued there are currently no “checks and balances” in terms of the public hearings. There are no requirements should any possible mandate receive a lot of pushback from the community, the department could still do what it sees best as long as they hold a hearing.

Lawton said, “The General Assembly gave the department their power, without a lot of accountability, and I think it should be taken back, but this is a good start.”

For more information on the department’s mandate visit

For more information about RIAVC visit their Facebook page or their website at

For more information on Rhode Island Against Mandated HPV visit their Facebook page.


9 comments on this item Please log in to comment by clicking here

  • LindaMc11

    Thank you for the great article. Please write/ join RIAVC if you need information.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2016 Report this

  • VaccineChoiceRI

    Thank you Shawna and everyone at Vaccine Choice RI for all you have done to get all these bills submitted in house and senate!

    Tuesday, March 22, 2016 Report this

  • NOHPVmandateRI

    Rhode Islanders against mandated HPV vaccinations is glad to have been a huge part of bringing new legislation introduced in RI and supporting parental rights. Facebook is HTTP:// and online with petition at HTTP:// for questions or more info Director Aimee Gardiner can be reached at 401.406.2647 & changehpvmandateri

    Tuesday, March 22, 2016 Report this

  • Heathermp

    Thank you Kelcy for the great article!

    All of these bills in the house and senate would not have been possible if it weren't for the dedicated efforts and hard work of The RI Alliance for Vaccine Choice! From the many meetings and phone calls to the reps and senators, and creating their informational HPV parent packet, to raising awareness for all Rhode Island parents that they have the right to informed consent and parental choice. Well done RIAVC!

    Tuesday, March 22, 2016 Report this

  • HerbTokerman

    It's nice to see some sanity on this issue.

    Requiring a vaccine with serious side effects to protect against a STD to attend school is just crazy.

    Half of the communicable disease vaccines are bunk as well.

    Children of the 1980's had a total of 9 vaccines before age 5, today they have 35-40 vaccines.

    You didn't see people dropping dead, nor the high rates of autism that we do today.

    There is absolutely no need to be pumping our children full of toxins under the false pretense that it's going to prevent death or major illness, the only people who benefit from it are the drug companies.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2016 Report this

  • warwickmom

    as the mom of a son who will be entering 7th grade next year, i thank you all for your hard work in getting these bills submitted! there is no way i will subject my son to this vaccine, so i will exempt him, but i think it is absolutely ridiculous that i should have to even consider opting him out, as it should not be a requirement that he get it.

    Tuesday, March 22, 2016 Report this

  • sarena45

    Thank you Warwick Beacon for keeping parents informed. I am personally greatful to the efforts if Aimee Gardiner and Shawna Lawton et al, for using a crowbar to open the door for a flood of information. Without the dedication and vigilance, I wouldn't have been as involved.

    Parents and taxpayers need to keep in mind of the Big Picture....that we must be part of the hearing process and keep the ability to oversee what's best for our families. Thank you all.

    Thursday, March 24, 2016 Report this

  • JAM20419

    We stopped mandatory HPV vaccination in Maryland this year. My hometown newspaper printed the following editorial. Lots of activated citizens got involved and killed the bill in committee.

    The vaccine may have some problems, according to this 2016 formal complaint:

    Friday, March 25, 2016 Report this

  • MrsDorRice

    Thank you so much for your hard work, Shawna and everyone at Vaccine Choice RI. I have personally seen some devastating autoimmune diseases, ovarian failures (4) and complete disabilities present within a day to a month after a dose of the HPV vaccine among the children of friends and family. In two cases the POTS Syndrome has cost the parents at least half a million in medical bills as they struggle to keep their kids alive. The autoimmune syndromes I have seen personally are Hashimoto's Disease in an 11 year old boy and Fibromyalgia in a 14 year old girl. These came on within a month of the vaccine after the kids complained of intense pain at the site of injection, feeling faint, and never really feeling good afterwards. 11 and 14 year olds should not have autoimmune conditions more commonly seen in 60 and 70 year olds. Teenagers should not go into menopause, as 2 family members and two friend's teenagers have done.

    Upon doing research, there are troubling reports about the HPV coming from all over the World. Japan, Denmark, Ireland and Argentina have taken it off the schedule since many girls there have died or been paralyzed by it, and India has held hearings for the same reason.

    To mandate such a dangerous vaccine for a condition that generally resolves itself without intervention, which barely causes life threatening cancer (1 in 1 million deaths) with a vaccine that only protects against 4 of 95 strains leaving more virulent strains to infect the child afterwards is insane, especially when weighing the fact that the benefits DO NOT outweigh the risk, except financially for the vaccine company and the State which gets a stipend for each vaccine sold.

    Friday, April 1, 2016 Report this