Colorado governor defends exemptions: States can't enforce vaccines 'at the point of a gun’

Colorado Gov. Jared PolisJared Schutz PolisColorado governor closes bars amid rise in virus cases Justice Dept. says it's reviewing Elijah McClain's death for potential civil rights probe Demonstrators protesting the death of Elijah McClain shut down Colorado highway MORE (D) on Tuesday defended his state's vaccination exemptions as a measles outbreak has drawn new attention to immunization practices.

While Polis said inoculation is important, he argued that the government can’t physically force parents to participate.

“It’s important that parents vaccinate their children, but you can’t do that at the point of a gun,” Polis told Hill.TV’s Krystal Ball and Buck Sexton during an interview on “Rising.”

“When the government tries to force parents to do this, it creates distrust in both vaccinations and distrust in government,” added Polis, whose state has one of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.

Measles outbreaks in several states across the country has reignited the debate over vaccine laws.

Colorado is among the ten states that have reported measles outbreaks this year, according to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. Public health experts and officials say vaccine exemptions are one of the reasons the disease is flaring up.

The Denver Channel reported last week that less than 89 percent of Colorado kindergartners are vaccinated against illnesses such as measles and mumps.

Amid the flurry of measles outbreaks, some Colorado lawmakers are pushing to make changes to the state’s vaccination policies.

Rep. Kyle Mullica (D) has begun drafting a bill to eliminate an exception that allows parents to opt out of vaccinating their children for personal reasons. Although school immunization requirements vary from state to state, Colorado allows parents to opt out of vaccines for religious, philosophical or personal beliefs.

But Polis has made it clear that he opposes such efforts.

A spokeswoman said in a statement that the governor believes that forcing people to receive shots would “ultimately backfire and hurt public health.”

Polis told Hill.TV that there are a lot of other measures that can be taken to increase the vaccination rate without getting the government involved.

“Most states have a waiver process that’s slightly different in different states, and yet Colorado has a lower rate and so clearly we need to change some of our policies to try to encourage people to do what’s best for their kids,” Polis said.

He said changes the state are considering include everything from allowing teenagers to get vaccinations without having to get their parents’ consent to creating a public awareness campaign geared towards expectant mothers about the implications of not vaccinating their kids.

Polis emphasized that at the end of the day, it is still up to parents and “not what the government is forcing them to do.”

—Tess Bonn