Lawmakers clash over school vaccination bill

Speaker Therese Terlaje (PNC file photo)

Lawmakers clashed during session today on a bill that would allow the Department of Public Health and Social Services to implement a school-located vaccination (SLC) program in Guam schools and institutions of higher learning.

Bill 2-35, introduced by Sen. Louise Muna, authorizes the Guam Department of Education to administer vaccines in public schools.

According to Sen. Muna, there’s already a school-located vaccination program at GDOE
in conjunction with DPHSS and the vaccines for children program.

However, Muna says her bill is needed because neither GDOE nor Public Health has the statutory authority to implement this program and legal challenges can shut it down.

In addition, Muna says not all children are eligible for the vaccines for children program.

“Now I want to emphasize that there are no legislative mandates in this bill. It is completely optional for GDOE to do any school-located vaccine program. There is no requirement to set up bank accounts or billing systems, those provisions only exist in the event that GDOE decides to create its own clinics and fill health insurance companies for the cost of the vaccines and the cost to administer them,” Muna said.

However, Sen. Therese Terlaje, the chair of the health committee, is opposed to the bill in its original form.

She said the premise of the bill is a very good one but there are several issues with the bill, including a statement from BBMR that the bill would have a fiscal impact as it would mandate DPHSS to provide vaccinations using its resources directly.

“This would require DPHSS to hire more professional medical and administrative personnel and to acquire additional technology to administer this program. This could cost up to $1 million or more. BBMR says the proposed legislation would require DPHSS to juggle restricted funding resources to cover this proposed unfunded mandate,” Terlaje said.

She added that the bill was referred to the committee on appropriations, not to the committee on education, or to the committee on health, and it was reported out without any additional funding source.

“So it’s still an unfunded mandate. This is on top of the recent shortfall that we have all acknowledged in the DPHSS budget for FY 21, and, of course, the increased work that has been placed on DPHSS because of the pandemic,” Terlaje said.

Bill 2-35 was placed on the third reading file.