JEFFERSON CITY — After several changes, the House Health Care Policy Committee on Wednesday brought mercury-free vaccinations one step closer to law.
The bill now awaits debate on the House floor.
The legislation, which passed in the Senate on April 13, prohibits all but traces of the mercury-containing preservative thimerosal in vaccinations given to children younger than 3 or to pregnant women.
Lujene Clark of Carthage, a former nurse whose 9-year-old son, Devon, suffered mercury poisoning after receiving a flu immunization, woke up at 4 on Wednesday morning so she could be at the Capitol in time to testify in support of the legislation.
“I stay true to my principles, and I stay true to the children of Missouri,” she said.
Clark said abundant research indicates immunizations containing mercury can poison children and potentially cause autism.
While in the Senate, the bill was amended to require that all patients be informed when vaccines contain mercury and allowed to refuse a shot containing mercury for any reason. Currently, the only reason accepted for refusing a vaccination is stating that it goes against one’s religious beliefs.
Sen. Norma Champion, R-Springfield, asked the House committee to remove the amendment so the legislation would have a better chance of passing, and the committee complied. Opponents to the amendment had argued it would prohibit the Missouri Department of Health from using some vaccines even in cases of emergency epidemics.
“The governor can’t support this bill with this amendment. It’s a matter of getting something done,” Champion said.
Rep. Kevin Threlkeld, R-Washington, agreed. He said political realities would not allow such a stipulation to exist.
Clark and her husband, Alan, who has been a physician in Missouri for more than 30 years, have been advocates and lobbyists for the legislation since it was filed last year. She said the Senate amendment is important because it would require that information be given to parents and allow them the right to choose.
“If it can happen to the child of a board-certified M.D., if a family with our medical background didn’t know (about the mercury content), don’t you think the average Missouri parent deserves to know? These children should be on the governor’s conscience,” Clark said.
Jessica Robinson, a spokeswoman for Gov. Matt Blunt, said the amendment would hinder the state’s ability to administer vaccinations.
“I don’t think it’s fair to say what the governor would or would not do at this point; there’s still a lot to be done,” Robinson said.
The bill underwent extensive changes before it won Senate approval. When Champion presented the bill last year, it prohibited vaccinations with excess amounts of mercury for anyone younger than 14. The House version of the bill, which changed that age to 8, passed 15-2-4 last year but failed to get a vote in the Senate.
Ron Calzone, a director for the Libertarian organization Missouri First, said the age limit should be higher to ensure all Missouri’s children are protected.
“We are going to undermine the trust of parents if we say it’s too dangerous for children under 3, but if you’re 3 and one day, we’re going to make you take that vaccine.”
Similar legislation has passed in California and Iowa, and bills addressing mercury in vaccinations have been filed in 14 other states.
Clark said that even if the bill passes, she would continue fighting until mercury is removed from all vaccines.
“For the sake of the almighty dollar, we’re willing to put children at 4 and over at risk. We have a moral and legal responsibility to children,” Clark said.