OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — An Oklahoma State Department of Health proposal that would make it easier for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children is being criticized by several state medical experts.
The leaders of the Oklahoma State Medical Association and the Oklahoma Alliance for Health Families, a pro-vaccination group of medical professionals, both urged the public to voice their concerns about the proposed change.
The proposed rule change comes as state health officials are urging Oklahomans to receive the coronavirus vaccine.
The proposed rule would permanently eliminate a requirement that parents seeking to exempt their children from vaccines watch an educational video about the benefits of vaccinations. Oklahoma law authorizes parents to opt out of immunizing their children by simply providing a written statement, and a summary of the proposed rule change suggests that requiring parents to watch an informational video is in conflict with that law. The rule had been temporarily suspended earlier this year, and the new proposal would permanently eliminate it.
The health department did not immediately respond Thursday to telephone and email messages seeking comment about the proposed change.
OSMA President Dr. George Monks said eliminating a requirement that parents watch an informative video before opting out, particularly during the coronavirus pandemic, "is unconscionable."
"Covid-19 has shown just how dangerous the spread of a contagious disease can be," Monks said in a statement. "Myths about vaccines spread on social media almost as fast as the diseases themselves. The Health Department's process protects kids by providing science-based information about vaccines through local health departments."
Monks said rampant disinformation about vaccines on social media and elsewhere is responsible for a sharp increase in the number of parents in Oklahoma who are deciding not to vaccinate their children.
Previous attempts by the Oklahoma Legislature to require vaccinations for children in public schools have faced fierce resistance from some conservative lawmakers and groups of parents who believe vaccines are harmful.
Meanwhile, state health officials reported more than 180,000 Oklahomans have registered through the state's new online Vaccine Scheduler Portal, which became operational Thursday morning. Of those applicants, more than 101,000 are currently eligible to receive the vaccine, the health department reported.
State health officials on Thursday reported 3,781 confirmed new coronavirus cases and 39 new deaths from COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, bringing the total number of confirmed infections to 315,354 and the state's death toll to 2,672. That follows a record one-day high of 62 deaths reported on Wednesday.
The 7-day rolling average of daily deaths in Oklahoma has risen over the past two weeks from 22.14 deaths per day on Dec. 23 to 25.71 deaths per day on Jan. 6, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The data also shows Oklahoma's 7-day rolling average of positivity rate and daily new cases also has increased during the same time period.