Kesha Ram wants none of that anti-vaxxer stuff

Note: I’ve received a further response from Mr. Batham, which has been added to the post below.

Not long after I posted my previous entry about David Zuckerman and Kesha Ram, I got a phone call from Brandon Batham, who runs Ram’s campaign for lieutenant governor. He wanted to assure me that Rep. Ram is not an anti-vaxxer, and sent along this statement via email:

Kesha fully believes in and accepts the science behind vaccinations. She is not an “anti-vaxxer.” As an 8-year State Representative, her goal is to keep our children—collectively and individually—healthy and safe. This will also be her goal as Lieutenant Governor.

Kesha remains concerned that parents opposed to vaccines will claim the religious exemption and remove their children from our medical and education systems. That is why she voted for an amendment presented by Rep. Ann Donahue that would have required parents to consult with a health care provider and review educational materials on the benefits of vaccines in order to receive an exemption.

She is in favor of removing both the philosophical and religious exemptions to vaccinations, and replacing them with an exemption request made in consultation with a medical professional related to adverse health effects.

I’ve sent Brandon an email requesting a bit of clarification, especially on whether she plans to pursue changes in the vaccination law as a legislator or, potentially, as lieutenant governor. I’ll update this post when I get a reply. Reply now received; see below.

Otherwise, okay, she’s not an anti-vaxxer. I still have some concerns, though.

The Donahue amendment would have allowed the legislature to duck the issue while placing the onus firmly on the shoulders of the medical community. And I can tell you, as someone with doctors in the family, they do not want the responsibility of being the sole gatekeepers for vaccine exemptions.

And if you combine the philosophical and religious exemptions, then you’re asking doctors to pass judgment on patients’ belief systems. That’s a profoundly uncomfortable place to put them in. It’s not their job, nor is it their expertise.

As for “educational materials,” like I said before, anti-vaxxers deny the validity of any information that doesn’t support their views. They already believe that doctors and public health officials are in Big Pharma’s pocket; a pamphlet from Health Department isn’t gonna change their minds.

Also, not recalling the details of Donohue’s plan, I’d ask who gets to write and approve the educational materials, and how she defines “health care provider.” Doctors? Dentists? Nurses? Chiropractors? Naturopaths? Midwives? Psychotherapists, with or without an M.D.? Physical therapists? Pharmacists? Opticians?

Besides all of that, reopening the issue will serve no purpose except to give anti-vaxxers another kick at the can. They had their chance, they brought in their hysterical celebrity witnesses, they used their toddlers as props, they bombarded lawmakers with emails and phone calls, and they failed to convince. If anything, they hurt their cause through their obvious extremism.

Anyway. Congratulations to Kesha Ram for believing in science and not being an anti-vaxxer. No thanks for seeking ways to shift responsibility, or for cosseting the anti-vaccine crowd.

Update. I sent an email to Ram’s campaign manager Brandon Batham, asking if she planned to offer legislation to amend the vaccine law. Here’s his response.

Given the pressing issues already slated for debate in the 2016 session (the Medicaid gap, legalization of marijuana, readdressing the issue of spending caps in Act 46, and others), Kesha will not be presenting legislation on this topic for consideration during session.

Our common goal is to have safer, healthier kids. Kesha’s hope is that parents will comply with the new law and that we will not see a spike in religious exemptions. We should give it time to work and, if we do not see increases in vaccination rates, then we will need to take additional steps.

…the issue of vaccinations is not one of the key focuses of Kesha’s candidacy. She is running on an opportunity agenda–access to early childhood education, affordable higher education, pathways to homeownership for all, and finishing the job on broadband access in all of our communities. That having been said, as Lt. Governor, she will handle all issues that come before her and the Senate in the same way: driving consensus with conviction. 

On the issue of vaccines, she will be more than willing to play an active role engaging in and leading the conversation, bringing together individuals with differing points of view. The frame of that discussion will be rooted in the medical and scientific reality that vaccines are largely beneficial to an individual and society (understanding there are extremely rare situations where an adverse medical reaction may occur).

Thanks to Batham for his timely, comprehensive reply. I note, in the second paragraph, that Ram’s goal is to increase vaccination rates, which is a good thing. I still disagree with her “No” vote on ending the philosophical exemption, and I still don’t like the Donahue amendment because health care providers shouldn’t be put in the position of judging patients’ religion or philosophy. But if you’re concerned, as I am, about having an anti-vaxxer a heartbeat away from the governorship, it’s clear that Sen. Zuckerman is a bigger worry than Rep. Ram.

5 thoughts on “Kesha Ram wants none of that anti-vaxxer stuff

  1. Edward Pomicter, MD

    I thought that the root of liberal is liberty. How can you claim to hold a liberal viewpoint if you do not believe in freedom?

    Vaccination is a medical procedure and as such should be individualized to the risks and benefits of the individual receiving the vaccination. The benefits of vaccination to individuals and even to groups are not agreed upon by physicians…I happen to be a physician who’s reading and interpretation of the scientific literature brings me to a conclusion that the risks of vaccination outweigh the benefits. Even so, I do not advocate a ban on vaccination. For me to believe that I have the ultimate knowledge to decide what is right for everybody would be a demonstration of extreme hubris….and I think that for you to believe that you or anybody else has the knowledge to decide what is right for any individual to do for/to themselves medically demonstrates a “god complex” that the public likes to accuse the medical profession of possessing. Are you really that smart and all seeing?

    To use the coercive force of government (and government edicts are always ultimately backed by the force of a gun and the threat of death to the non-compliant) to compel people to do something to themselves or their children which they believe is harmful is an immoral act and shows the ultimate disrespect for your fellow human. I believe that your stance is less that of a liberal and more that of a dictatorial tyrant.

    1. chuck gregory

      “Freedom” is NOT being able to do whatever you want. Freedom is, according to the concept that originated in ancient Athens, the condition of being respected by the state. Anti-vaxxers are free insofar as their concerns are listened to, weighed and dismissed on rational, evidence-based grounds.

      Nobody who acts like an idiot is likely to maintain the respect of the rest of society.

    2. Mark Trigo

      A couple of points:

      1) I am very interested in how Ms. Ram would cast a tie-breaking vote if this issue came before her. While she may not intend to introduce legislation of this nature, it may nonetheless come before her.

      2) Nobody is attempting to force children into being vaccinated. This is either a straw-man argument or a complete lack of understanding of the issue. Whicher it is, it is concerning that someone would make this allegation. All that is being required is that, IF YOU PARTAKE IN A PUBLICLY FUNDED EDUCATION SYSTEM, YOU REDUCE THE RISK OF HARMING OTHER CITIZENS (CHILDREN). This is nothing new. We make these balances as a society all of the time. Unvaccinated children present a significantly greater risk to other children than vaccinated children. For some reason, the anti-vaxxers seem to forget that their behavior impacts others.

      3) The science is beyond well settled. Any medical professional suggesting that the science establishes that overall risk of vaccination outweighs the overall benefits is, at best, being disengenuous. I encourage people to think about the qualities they want in a treating medical professional. I personally want my treating professional to have a correct understanding of the overwhelming evidence established by practitioners of science based medicine. I doubt that I am in the minority.

      So, in summary, feel free to refrain from vaccinating your child. Feel free to add arsenic (a natural ingredient!) to your water. Feel free to refrain from using flouride. But if you do stupid things, you are not free to pass along the risk that stems from your misinformed decisions. And if you ignore well-settled science you don’t have the right to force me to suffer the consequences of your ignorance. Society should protect its most vulnerable – not facilitate their harm.


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