Tom Price, our new Secretary of Health and Human Services, apparently believes immunization is an issue that should be decided state to state because "they're the ones that have the public health responsibility."
On a CNN town hall that aired Wednesday night, Price was asked whether, as a physician, he believes in immunization. His response was that state governments should decide.
"It’s a perfectly appropriate role for the government—this happens by and large at the state government level because they're the ones that have the public health responsibility," Price said. "To determine whether or not immunizations are required for a community population."
In January, President Donald Trump also put vocal anti-vaccination campaigner Robert Kennedy Jr. in charge of a “commission on vaccination safety and scientific integrity.” Trump has also expressed suspicion of vaccinations in the past–all in the face of scientific and medical consensus that vaccines are safe and necessary for pubic health. If sub-groups opt-out of vaccination, they put the entire population at risk, especially low-income families and people of color, who face higher barriers to accessing medical care if they do get sick.
The Republican plan to replace the Affordable Care Act also contains severe cuts to federal funding for state vaccination programs, targeting two initiatives in particular: the Prevention and Public Health Fund and the 317 Immunization Program.
There is no federal law that requires children to be vaccinated, though the National Vaccine Advisory Committee and the Advisory Committee on Childhood Vaccines can issue recommendations. Laws vary widely state to state.
After a measles outbreak in 2015 which affected at least 159 people, California passed a law denying parents the option not to vaccinate on grounds of philosophical disagreement with vaccinations. Mississippi and West Virginia are the only other states that have laws as stringent as California. Nationally, in 17 other states, religious and medical exemptions are allowed, and in the rest of the country, religious, medical, and philosophical exemptions are accepted.