SD legislators balk at handcuffing Department of Health on childhood vaccinations

Child vaccination rates are down since COVID-19 pandemic.
Child vaccination rates are down since COVID-19 pandemic.(WNEM)
Published: Feb. 16, 2023 at 11:42 AM CST
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PIERRE, S.D. (SDBA) -- A Senate committee Wednesday killed a bill restricting mandatory childhood COVID-19 vaccines. It also would have stripped much of the state Department of Health’s authority regarding all mandatory childhood immunizations in public schools.

After about an hour of testimony and committee consideration, the Senate Health and Human Services Committee killed SB 125 on a 7 to 0 vote.

Republican Sen. Julie Frye-Mueller of Rapid City said the measure was needed because of governmental overreach.

“We (the legislature) would make the decision (about vaccinations), not unelected bureaucrats,” she said. “It is our responsibility to make these decisions.”

Other proponents testified that the COVID-19 vaccine is dangerous to children and that the side effects of the drug are not fully understood. They also emphasized parental rights to make vaccination decisions.

Opponents to the bill said there is already a rule-making process that the Department of Health has to follow--that includes the legislature--if the department wants to add new vaccinations to the currently approved vaccines. They also said the law also would take away the DOH’s authority--which they say they have wielded prudently.

“No one has indicated that the Department of Health is putting COVID-19 on the list,” said South Dakota Medical Association lobbyist Justin Bell. “The Department of Health cannot add things without legislative oversight.”

Others said the current rule-making process is effective and responsive. They also said current law does allow parents to choose to homeschool or private schools if they don’t want their children immunized.

No one from the Department of Health was at the hearing.

The committee sent the measure to the 41st Legislative Day, effectively killing it.