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Executive Order Aims To Improve Colorado's Vaccination Rates

AURORA, Colo. (CBS4) - Gov. Jared Polis signed an executive order on Thursday, aimed at getting more kids vaccinated. This order comes as new data shows Colorado's vaccination rates getting worse.

The Colorado Department of Health says last year 13% of the state's kindergartners were not immunized for measles mumps and rubella; that's the worst rate in the country.

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As part of his executive order, Polis directed the Colorado Department of Health to figure out why parents are hesitant to vaccinate and to improve education and access to immunizations.

Lesley Thompson applauded the move. Her 2-year-old grandson Kale died last fall from meningitis, a vaccine preventable disease.

Flu Vaccine Shortage Continues
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"He was smart and rambunctious... and there's not a day that we don't miss him," said Thompson.

Kale was too young to be vaccinated for meningitis. Thompson says he developed a fever one morning and by that night was on life support.

"If more people could get vaccinated and if there was more awareness, another family wouldn't have to go through this," said Thompson.

Polis hopes to do that, but says he won't require parents to vaccinate their kids.

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"I believe that the heavy-handed government mandate that forces parents to vaccinate their children or themselves against their will isn't the answer and we're proposing a third way - expanding education, expanding access - which will help more kids get vaccinated while respecting the decisions of parents who choose otherwise for religious or personal reasons," said Polis.

Dr. Reggie Washington, Chief Medical Officer for Rocky Mountain Hospital for Children, says the executive order is a good first step.

"My position would be you really have to have a good reason not to be vaccinated and it has to be based on sound medical and scientific evidence not just a belief because a belief is not necessarily the truth," said Washington.

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Washington said education and access are problems, especially in rural Colorado, and the executive order will help. But he says it's also too easy for parents to opt their kids out of vaccines.

"There's a population of kids who cannot be immunized. They have transplants or other medical issues. They're exposed to this. What about their rights?" said Washington.

Thompson and her son, Kale's dad, testified in favor of a bill this past legislative session that would have made it more difficult for parents to opt their kids out of vaccines.

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"If we can help another family not have to lose a child we'll do everything we can," said Thompson.

The governor opposed the bill and it died but the lawmaker who sponsored it, Rep. Kyle Mullica, a Democrat representing Adams County, said he continues to work on the issue.

Mullica, an emergency room nurse, called the governor's executive order a good first step, "If the governor wants to put resources in a diverse realm or in different areas thinking that we can solve this problem, I'm not going stop anyone who wants to throw more resources at this problem because I think it's that important of an issue. But we still need to look at the issues we were looking at last year as well because that's coming from the experts."

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