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Could vaccine forms spook parents?

By Jim Saunders
2/17/2010 © Health News Florida
State Rep. Kevin Ambler says he wants to make sure parents have adequate information about vaccinations that children need to enroll in school. 

But the bill Ambler pushed Tuesday -- requiring parents to sign forms showing they have received such information before children can get shots – worried Palm Beach County pediatrician Tommy Schechtman.

It could have a "chilling effect'' on immunizations, he said. “Ultimately, what I am concerned about as a physician is that we don't scare our patients needlessly.'' 

Medical groups, which are lobbying to kill Ambler's bill, won an early victory Tuesday; a vote on the measure was postponed in the House Health Care Regulation Policy Committee. 

Many lawmakers appeared skeptical of the bill, which comes after years of controversy about whether childhood vaccinations could be causing autism. Repeated studies have found no link.

This month the British medical journal Lancet formally retracted the study that created the furor in the first place. The 1998 paper, which had linked autism to the vaccine for measles, mumps and rubella, was found to have serious flaws. 

The committee meeting Tuesday included almost no discussion of the autism issue, though Ambler, R-Tampa, said the bill is not about thimerosal, a vaccine preservative that has played a role in the controversy. 

Ambler also said the bill is not meant to discourage parents from having their children immunized. But he said some parents are not getting enough information about the vaccines that tens of thousands of children must receive before entering Florida's school system each year. 

"I just think parents have a right to know, and parents don't get the information they should,'' Ambler said. 

Federal law requires health-care providers to give what is known as a Vaccine Information Statement to parents that explains such issues as vaccination benefits and risks. 

The proposed bill would add to that by requiring providers to have a child's parent or legal guardian sign a form verifying they have received the information before shots are given. Also, it would require doctors to make a notation on the form of the batch and lot number for each vaccine given to the child. 

Ambler said he is trying to ensure "best practices'' by doctors. He also likened the proposal to patients signing forms to comply with the federal Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act --- a commonplace occurrence in doctors' offices. 

But the measure drew criticism from health-care groups, including the Florida Medical Association, and questions from several members of the House committee . 

"It's simply a continuation of the micromanaging of the practice of medicine,'' said Jeff Scott, an FMA lobbyist. 

Republican Rep. Ronald "Doc" Renuart, a Ponte Vedra Beach physician, said requiring signed forms is usually reserved for more-invasive procedures than immunizations. He said such signature requirements can "spook or scare'' a patient. 

Tallahassee pediatrician Louis St. Petery told the committee that immunizations "are the most effective prevention measure this country and this world'' have ever seen. 

Faced with the opposition, Ambler agreed to postpone a vote. He said he wants to bring back an amended version of the bill to the committee.

The annual legislative session starts March 2, though committees have already begun considering bills. 

--Capital Bureau Chief Jim Saunders can be reached at 850-228-0963 or by e-mail.