TOPEKA, Kan. (AP) — A Kansas anti-vaccination group says its membership is growing dramatically since the state added two new vaccination requirements for children returning to school this fall.
As of Aug. 2, Kansas is requiring a meningitis vaccine for students beginning seventh grade and students entering 11th grade who weren't vaccinated before their 16th birthdays. And students entering kindergarten or first grade need two doses of the hepatitis A vaccine. The vaccines are required for children in public and private schools and are in addition to five other mandated vaccines.
Exceptions are allowed for religious or medical reasons.
Connie Newcome, president of Kansans for Health Freedom, said the nonprofit has grown larger since the Kansas Department of Health and Environment held a hearing on the two new vaccination requirements in June, The Kansas City Star reported.
"I think most people in Kansas are independent enough that they prefer to make their own family decisions without the government telling them what to do," said Newcome, a grandmother living outside Hutchinson who says she stopped vaccinating her children decades ago.
The new requirements follow recommendations of the Advisory Committee for Immunization Practices.
"Both of these illnesses are severe and preventable, and the safety profile of the vaccines is well-recognized, in keeping with the CDC (Centers for Disease Control) and other scientific authority," said Kristi Pankratz, a spokeswoman with the state health department.
Members of the anti-vaccination group told The Star they worry about the pharmaceutical industry's influence on scientific studies. Many also discussed their children's illnesses and disorders, which they claim occurred or grew worse after vaccinations — despite research largely showing the contrary.
Christine White, a Johnson County physician, said research shows the benefits of vaccines far outweigh the risks, especially with life-threatening diseases such as meningitis.
"Parents who refuse meningitis (vaccines) often say their children aren't at risk because they're homeschooled or aren't often in group environments. And we try to discuss it only takes one sneeze or one shared drink with a kid who has it to get it," White said. "I've had a few converts with that one. But meningitis scares people. People know that it can kill you."
In 2017, 72% of Kansas teenagers had been vaccinated against meningitis, lower than the national average of 85%. Kansas ranks sixth from the bottom in meningitis vaccination rates in the country.
Last year, 90% of Kansas children were vaccinated against hepatitis A, due to a previously approved requirement for children in day cares.
Information from: The Kansas City Star, http://www.kcstar.com