A bill to repeal religious exemptions for vaccines that are mandatory for children to attend school is the right direction — but it contains a serious flaw.
An Act Concerning Immunizations “to protect the public health by ensuring adequate and appropriate immunizations of children” grandfathers in non-vaccinated students already in the educational system as early as day care.
This dilutes the bill to such a degree it is nearly ineffective.
The move to grandfather in exemptions for unvaccinated students is not for medical reasons — it is purely political. Democrats added that in hopes to secure Republican votes and make HB 5044 a bipartisan bill.
That strategy didn’t work coming out of the Public Health Committee Monday — not one Republican of the nine on the committee voted for the bill (and two Democrats voted against it). It stands to reason, then, Republicans are unlikely to support the bill in the full House.
Democrats should stand up for the original intent of the bill — to better protect children and the population at large — and remove the grandfathered exemptions.
The issue is one of the most heated and emotional of this General Assembly session, right up there with tolls. A public hearing last month went for 21 hours with nearly 500 people signing up to testify. When the committee voted Monday, thousands came to the Capitol to protest.
Objections center mainly on parents saying they should decide what’s medically best for their child, not the government. Earlier concerns by some that vaccines could cause autism have been thoroughly debunked by scientific studies, the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states.
Present state law requires immunization against a handful of communicable diseases, such as measles and polio, as a condition of attending school. Exemptions can be given for medical or religious reasons. The state Department of Public Health estimates as many as 7,800 children received a religious exemption in the 2018-19 school year.
But no major religion expressly forbids vaccinations.
Lawmakers must be sensitive to the views of parents, but their obligation is to the safety of the general population.
The non-medical exemptions came into focus last year with a measles outbreak in New York and some cases reported in Connecticut. Measles, a disease that can lead to dire consequences including death, was thought to have been eradicated. But an increase in exemptions opened the door to its return.
The state’s Public Health department reported last year that 134 schools had fewer than 95 percent of the students vaccinated against measles. That percentage is critical because it is the threshold necessary to maintain herd immunity.
Without that immunity, measles or other diseases can erupt and affect not only children but also others they come in contact with, such as family members with auto-immune diseases or health compromised by cancer treatments, for example.
This is not a minuscule threat. The global coronavirus outbreak makes evident the need for government to be proactive and nonpolitical in protecting public health.