PIERRE, S.D. (KELO) — It was an emotional morning of testimony in the South Dakota House Health and Human Services committee as parents, medical professionals, a polio survivor (via telephone) and the state’s Secretary of Health testified about a bill aimed at repealing vaccination requirements for school.

In the end, the House committee voted 10-2 to move HB 1235 to the 41st legislative day, which effectively kills the bill for this year.

Only Reps. Julie Frye-Mueller (R-Rapid City) and Tamara St. John (R-Sisseton) voted against killing it.

There was support for the bill to be brought back up during a summer study, but no formal action was taken.

If passed, this would have been the first bill of its kind in the country. All 50 states require vaccination to go to public schools. Some states have personal, religious and medical exemptions. South Dakota currently has religious and medical exemptions.

House Bill 1235 would have effectively stripped the current legislation and instead replace with the following language:

“No child entering public or nonpublic school, or a public or nonpublic early childhood program in this state, may be required to receive any immunization or medical procedure for enrollment or entry. The Department of Health may recommend any immunization for school entry but may not require them. No school may use any coercive means to require immunization.”


This bill is being touted by supporters as medical freedom vs. anti-vaccine bill.

In the current state law, there are two exemptions to vaccinations:

  1. Certification from a licensed physician stating the physical condition of the child would be such that immunization would endanger the child’s life or health
  2. A written statement signed by one parent or guardian that the child is an adherent to a religious doctrine whose teachings are opposed to such immunization.

Rep. Linda Duba (D-Sioux Falls) asked representatives from Sanford and Avera if they have ever had to issue a medical exemption.

Dr. Fernando Bula-Rudas, a pediatric infectious disease specialist at Sanford, said he has had to issue them for patients with DiGeorge Syndrome, for a limited time with the Measles vaccine. That is, however, for a limited time.

“Then that patient can receive the vaccine under medical supervision,” Bula-Rudas said.

Proponents of the bill also said the Sioux Falls Catholic Schools and several public schools have not allowed religious exemptions.

Duba refuted the Catholic Schools claim, asking for documentation from Olson.

Leaders from Sanford Health and some other physicians, school boards, the Sioux Falls School District, the presentation sisters, the South Dakota State Medical Association, WellMark, the American Academy of Pediatrics, Community Healthcare of the Dakotas, South Dakota Nurses Association, Lifescape and the South Dakota Chamber of Commerce all spoke against the bill.

For the sponsor of the bill Rep. Lee Qualm (R-Platte), the president of South Dakotans for Informed Consent Mya Olson and other proponents of the bill, this bill is about medical freedom.

“Give us back our freedom,” Olson said. “It’s a God-given right. Our constitution is supposed to protect it.

Qualm said he is worried about consent that parents receive and his assertion of a link between autism and vaccinations, although it’s unclear where that research has come from.

The Secretary of Health refuted that claim with a statement from Autism Speaks.

Qualm said his children are all vaccinated.

“This is the toughest subject I have ever dealt with,” Qualm said. “It has to do with freedom.”

The Center for Disease Control and Prevention estimates vaccinations have prevented more than 21 million hospitalizations and 732,000 deaths among children born in the last 20 years.

A Harvard Kennedy School Misinformation Review study released last month found misinformation about vaccination on the rise. According to the study:

  1. 18% of people mistakenly state that it is very or somewhat accurate to say that vaccines cause autism
  2. 15% mistakenly agree that it is very or somewhat accurate to say that vaccines are full of toxins
  3. 20% wrongly report that it is very or somewhat accurate to say it makes no difference whether parents choose to delay or spread out vaccines instead of relying on the official CDC vaccine schedule
  4. 19% incorrectly hold that it is very or somewhat accurate to say that it is better to develop immunity by getting the disease than by vaccination

Harvard’s study believes social media is leading to this misinformation vs. traditional media consumption.

Bill proponent Olson said it’s missed information, not misinformation.

“One size medicine does not fit all,” Olson said. “What this bill is about is medical freedom.”

The South Dakota Department of Health has a goal to increase the percentage of children aged 19-35 months to receive recommended vaccinations from 76.3% in 2014 to 80% by 2020. The latest data from 2017 shows the level at 74.7%., which is slightly above the national average.

“Serious reactions to childhood vaccination are extremely rare. A person is far more likely to be seriously injured by a vaccine-preventable disease than by a vaccine,” the state’s Department of Health said. “Through November 2018, South Dakota has had 120 cases of pertussis which is a 700% increase over the 5-year median of 15.”

Outside of testimony on both sides of the moral argument, the Board of Regents came out against the bill for technical reseasons.

One section of the bill would make it a class one misdemeanor for an educational institution, medical provider or person to make someone get an immunization.

The BOR is concerned because of its medical school and other health sciences degrees require clinical rotations and residences. According to the SDBOR, this bill would either make it nearly impossible for students to get a degree because all clinical rotations and residencies follow set guidelines to require vaccinations. The alternative, according to the SDBOR, would be to dismantle the health sciences programs, as the bill is currently written.

Olson said she has helped nursing students get exemptions.

“The idea that this bill would hurt medical schools in South Dakota is not accurate,” Olson said. “It is not going to revoke their accreditation.”

Rep. Julie Frye-Mueller (R-Rapid City) expressed concern about vaccinations being manufactured in China and Japan and heavy metals in the brain.

Each side of testimony in the committee hearing was allowed additional time.

Bill proponent Olson said while working with Qualm and others on the bill, including 900 people who would have testified for the bill, religion played a key part in the bill.

“Every step of the way, God has touched this bill,” Olson said.

Rep. Erin Healey (D-Sioux Falls) said she was frustrated with that comment.

“As a Christan that offends me,” Healey said.

This is a developing story.