Friday, March 23, 2007

Tennessee Legislators Propose to Take Vaccination Power from Commissioner of Health

A bill introduced into the Tennessee State Legislature (HB1580/SB1958) and discussed this week would take away the power of the Commissioner of Health to require vaccines for sexually transmitted diseases and give that power to the General Assembly. The existing code (49-6-5001(a)) reads:

The commissioner of health is authorized, subject to the approval of the public health council, to designate diseases against which children must be immunized prior to attendance at any school, nursery school, kindergarten, preschool or child care facility of Tennessee.

The proposed legislation would amend that section to add:

provided, however, an immunization for a disease only transmitted sexually, for which a preventive vaccine has been approved and recommended for girls and women in a specific age group, shall not be required unless specifically authorized by the general assembly.

This move stems from controversy over the HPV vaccine, which some worry will promoting sexual activity among girls.

All of those signing on to the bills are Republicans, with the exceptions of Vaughn, J. DeBerry, and Pinion in the House, and Burks, Jackson, and Tracy in the Senate. The bill has been referred to the committees on Health and Human Resources for consideration on 3/28.

The Commissioner of Health is in charge of the Tennessee Department of Health, an agency staffed with public health and healthcare professionals with training in epidemiology and related issues. The current Commissioner, Susan Cooper, has "an extensive background in vulnerable populations, program planning and evaluation, health policy, healthcare regulation, and evidence-based practice." The current General Assembly has a bare handful of people who have ever worked in any healthcare-related capacity. In a segment on local news channel WTVF last night (look for "Lawmakers disagree on HPV vaccine"), Cooper, who is not currently for mandating the vaccine, stated, "I believe that as science changes, the Commissioner of Health is in the best position to keep up with the most recent science and make appropriate recommendations." In other words, she and her people are trained to keep up with this information, and have the skills to appropriately evaluate and understand the evidence. I don't think it's too big of a stretch to assume that the legislature is not trying to capture these powers in order to have better influence on money spent on vaccines, or to ensure that appropriate health-promoting measures are taken - they're doing it because of the "slut shot" hype.

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Anonymous john h said...

As an employee of the Dept. of Health, I appreciate our new Commissioner's knowledge and professional background. The fact that a nurse, who has been on the front line, was named commissioner was significant.

This exercise in politicizing health care is repugnant. As an employee I am supposed to keep my mouth shut, but I would surely hope the Governor who had the good sense to name Ms. Miller the commissioner would have the good sense to veto any bill with this intent.

5:02 PM  
Blogger Rachel said...

I appreciate your comment, and agree. As a medical librarian (another profession trained to keep up with and understand the medical literature), I find the idea that a bunch of politicians (from backgrounds in banking and farming and everything but healthcare) think they're better qualified to make these decisions on behalf of the state than this Commissioner deeply disturbing.

5:22 PM  

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