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Lawmakers advanced a bill barring new religious exemptions to vaccines. Here’s what it would do.

Thousands of people opposed to the vaccine exemption bill gathered at the Capitol for a public hearing last week and again for a committee vote on Monday. (CTMirror.org)

HARTFORD, Conn. – Amid pushback from Republicans and thousands of outraged parents, the legislature’s Public Health Committee voted Monday to advance a bill that would ban religious exemptions to mandatory immunizations in Connecticut.

The measure, which started off with a strict timeline of barring all children who are not vaccinated on religious grounds from entering public and private schools next fall, was amended Monday to allow students already enrolled in school to finish their education. Only new children entering the school system or day care would be prohibited from claiming a religious exemption.

The Department of Public Health has estimated that as many as 7,800 children were granted a religious exemption during the 2018-19 school year.

The committee voted 14 to 11 in favor of moving the bill to the House of Representatives. Two Democrats and the panel’s nine Republicans opposed the measure, saying it was being rushed through. They pointed to problems with data collection on immunization rates, and to hastily written amendments they said committee members did not have enough time to review.

public hearing on the measure drew thousands of people last week. Nearly 500 signed up to testify at a meeting that lasted more than 21 hours. Thousands more turned up at the Capitol Monday to protest the committee vote, chanting, praying, and confronting lawmakers after the meeting.

People sporting stickers that read “In God We Trust,” “My Faith says Do No Harm,” and other messages gathered at the Capitol. (Mark Pazniokas, CTMirror.org)

Proponents who supported the legislation said it was important to begin addressing the rising number of exemptions that have led to lower overall vaccination rates. The Department of Public Health reported there were 134 Connecticut schools at which fewer than 95% of students were vaccinated against the measles in 2018-19. The 95% threshold is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to maintain herd immunity.

Here’s what the latest version of the bill would do:

‘Grandfathering’ in children

The bill passed by the committee Monday would allow all children who already are enrolled in day care, preschool or any of the state’s public or private schools – and who claim a religious exemption – to remain in school for the duration of their education. That means children may stay in public or private school all the way through 12thgrade. Only new children entering day care or the school system would no longer be able to claim a religious exemption.

The bill is effective upon passage. So if the measure is signed into law this summer, that’s when the cutoff would be.

Medical exemptions are still permitted, but would require a physician’s approval.

Data collection

The Department of Public Health receives data on vaccine exemptions annually from school nurses. But parents who claim religious exemptions only sometimes detail which immunizations they are skipping. In some cases, parents report one or all of the vaccines they are refusing. In other instances, they claim the exemption but don’t specify.

The bill would require the public health department to change the way it collects data. Upon passage, the department would work with the Connecticut Office of Early Childhood and state Department of Education to gather specifics on what vaccines each child is abstaining from. Children’s names would still be kept out of the reporting.

Data publication

The measure requires the public health commissioner to annually release school-by-school vaccination rates. Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell was the first to begin releasing that data last year, and lawmakers want the practice to continue.

This mandate was included in the first version of the bill, and remained in the amended legislation.

Advisory board

The bill would also establish a board to review Connecticut’s vaccine program and advise the health commissioner. The group would have regular discussions with physicians who are in a position to grant medical exemptions.

Some lawmakers are concerned that a repeal of the religious exemption would spur more people to seek medical exceptions. The advisory board would include experts from the medical community, and would be appointed by lawmakers, the health commissioner and the education commissioner.

Mandatory vaccines

Mandatory immunizations included are measles, mumps and rubella, diphtheria, pertussis (whooping cough), tetanus, poliomyelitis, and haemophilus influenzae type B, an infection that can lead to bacterial meningitis.

The bill leaves the door open for the state health commissioner to add more required vaccines, though officials with the health department have said they tailor their mandates to federal guidelines.

Autoimmune disorders

The bill requires doctors to take into account autoimmune disorders when deciding whether to grant a medical exemption.

“People who have autoimmune disorders, vaccines can be very dangerous to them,” said Rep. Sean Scanlon, D-Guilford, who drafted the bill’s amendments. “The point I heard from people was they feel that should be a legitimate medical reason why they shouldn’t get a vaccine. But the doctors don’t always take that seriously.”

The newest version of the bill would require doctors to carefully consider autoimmune disorders or a family history of them when granting medical exemptions.

4 comments

Mike Mushak February 25, 2020 at 9:47 pm

As Trump has sabotaged the American pandemic response infrastructure over the last 3 years through multiple firings and defunding, with full support of his brainwashed and anti-science Republican supporters, we now have the shocking spectacle of watching a chaotic and ineffective federal government response to coronavirus unfold before our eyes on the evening news.

And as the Trump-loving Republicans in CT and a few brain-dead Democrats in Hartford side with anti-vaxxers and support the self-centered dubious religious exemptions for vaccines that threaten public health for every single one of us including children and elderly and immuno-compromised, we can now all see who our real leaders are, including among our elected officials in Norwalk.

Mitch Adis February 26, 2020 at 7:24 am

Here is what the choice should be – vaccinate for public school admission or don’t vaccinate and home school.

Bryan Meek February 26, 2020 at 2:46 pm

If the law requires vaccinations for Trump Derangement Syndrome, I’m all for it.

But leave my daughters alone. If a parent wants to inoculate their pre-pubescent children for STDs, that’s their prerogative. I already have a vaccine in place for that.

And if I’m a bit skeptical of this years or next years flu vaccine because it was made in Viet Nam, India, possibly China that is my right to opinion. These vaccines go through almost no testing period before they are released to market, relative to most vaccines.

This is why the law failed. Because common sense won out over the state’s unilateral power grab.

And if the state really cared about our kids, they’d allow us to properly clean the school facilities. This power grab that pretends to protect public health is coming from the same state that bans use of the only cleansers that can kill viruses in our school buildings. Their virtue signaling for the environment is more important than the health of our children.

Vaccinating with compounds that have been in existence for decades with real clinical trial data is a no brainer.

Cleaning high touch objects like school desks, fountains, door knobs, etc…with bleach….then using the green stuff on floors and walls is also a no brainer.

When more people have been injured by stupid bike lanes that you put in your city than have died from Coronavirus and you think it’s all Trumps fault, then clearly you do not have a brain.

Kent H February 26, 2020 at 10:01 pm

If one is a conservative and/or has conservative leanings and doesn’t want a vaccine they dont get it nor do they insist no one else does either. Yet, if one is a liberal and wants a vaccine well then everyone else must get it too – and therein lies the issue. People should be able to make their own choice.

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