Admittedly, the first time I contacted an elected official, I was terrified. I’m not a phone person. I’d rather have a root canal than a phone conversation. Having a script to use helped me make my point concisely.
When calling an elected official, rarely will you actually speak to them. You will more than likely be talking to a staffer or intern who is more concerned with taking the message down accurately than they are with judging what you have to say. Phone calls are effective. They require someone on the other end to pick up and engage with constituents.
If a phone call has you breaking into a cold sweat though, consider an email or mailing your legislators. You can go into more detail about your concern, however, replies are often canned responses that legislators have at the ready.
To engage with your legislators effectively, the most important thing is that you identify yourself as a constituent. That destroys the argument that no one in their district cares about an issue. You do and you are telling them that they should, too. Be persistent. Change doesn’t happen overnight and the legislative session has certain times when certain actions are most effective. If you can, meet your legislator in person or attend one of their events to gain face time.
That said, voicing your concerns is never a bad thing to do or a waste of time. With that said, here are some sample scripts. Feel free to customize these, especially to tell your own story about why non-medical exemptions need to end.
I am a constituent in District ______, and am reaching out to express my interest in our community’s efforts towards a safer and healthier South Carolina, and to express my concerns over the continued allowance of non-medical exemptions, also known as religious exemptions, in South Carolina.
Vaccines are an important part of the public health initiative to keep children and families safe from preventable diseases and outbreaks. Yet each year, parents may file a religious exemption with almost zero proof, and opt out of giving their children their yearly vaccines. These vaccines are proven to be safe and effective, but our community only benefits if over 95% of the surrounding population has also been vaccinated. This herd immunity is crucial for also keeping those safe who cannot have a vaccine for medical reasons.
Tell your story here. Why is ending non-medical exemptions important to you? If using this script in a phone call, don’t be too lengthy. Pick and choose a few points here.
Other States Lead: The argument on parent’s choice can only go so far in this case, as public health concerns do allow state legislatures to have a say in this discussion. In Jacobson versus Massachusetts, for example, the Supreme Court of the United States found legislative vaccine mandates to be constitutional as a means of protecting public health and public safety.
Mississippi and West Virginia did away with religious exemptions years ago, and California followed suit in 2015 after an outbreak at Disneyland called into question the vaccine rate of children in the area. Here’s the thing, as studies note, easier exemption regimes are associated with higher exemption rates as well as higher disease outbreaks and risks.
Send your legislator resources. Make sure that they’re from reputable sources, such as CDC, NIH, WHO, AAP, AMA, or APHA. Here are a few ideas:
- SC Parents for Vaccines (our website): https://vaccinatesc.org/resources/
- NCSL’s website showing which states have religious or philosophical exemptions: http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/school-immunization-exemption-state-laws.aspx
- A Study from the American Journal of Public Health on Non-medical Exemptions (cited above): https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC4202987/
- American Academy of Pediatrics’s statement calling for the end of non-medical exemptions: Link
I would also love to speak with you more about this on the phone or in person if you have time. I would appreciate your views on this issue and welcome a chance to connect on how we can effectively close the loophole on religious exemptions for vaccines so that every child in South Carolina stays safe and healthy, and can grow up in peace.
Thank you and take care.”
Have you successfully engaged your elected officials on strengthening vaccine policy? We’d love to hear about it and any tips that you found useful. Leave us a comment!