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.