New State Law Raises Bar on Vaccinations, But Empowers Parents to Choose

Vaccines continue to be a hot topic across America, and no one is immune. The measles outbreak earlier this year thrust the debate back in the national spotlight.

Dr. Prasad Srinivasan says the scientific evidence is clear, but the decision for individual families isn't always simple. Doctors have an obligation to engage parents in a conversation about vaccines.

"The importance is to make sure that the concerns of the parents or guardians are heard and to have a dialogue, and parents need to make an informed consent as to whether they are or they're not going to vaccinate their children," said the pediatrician and allergist.

Several states enacted new laws this year to increase immunization compliance. In California, the governor signed a bill that eliminates the religious or personal exemption.

The Connecticut legislature also raised the bar with House Bill 6949. Parents and guardians seeking a religious exemption must now submit a legal form, to be witnessed by a notary, judge, town clerk or school nurse in order for their child to enter school without being vaccinated.

Naturopath Jared Skowron cares for many Connecticut families who choose not to have their children vaccinated.

"They want to make medical choices for their children. They don't want the government to intervene," said Skowron.

He encourages parents to gather as much information as possible, and says his families are on board with our state lawmakers.

"There's value in the new vaccine law because Connecticut families still have their rights and freedoms," he said.

Srinivasan, who wears a second hat as a Republican state representative, says his colleagues in Hartford worked hard to empower parents while maintaining Connecticut's high vaccination rates.

"There's not going to be this mad rush of people saying they want to exempt their children, at least I hope not," he said.

The latest numbers from the State Department of Public Health seem to support the doctor's statement.

For the 2014-2015 school year, the percentage of kids in kindergarten and seventh grade whose parents sought a religious or medical exemption was down 3 percent from the previous year. That's the first year of decline since 2007.

Overall, vaccination rates in Connecticut schools were at or above 97 percent last year for most of the recommended vaccines like MMR, Polio, DTaP and Hepatitis B.

Srinivasan says in the end, the state remains committed to protecting the greater good.

"There is sufficient data without a question that vaccines are safe and that they need to be administered from a public health point of view, so that all our children are safe," said Srinivasan.

As originally approved, House Bill 6949 would have required parents to complete this exemption form every year, but the language was changed in the eleventh hour. Now, parents only have to submit the legal form twice: the year their child starts school and again in seventh grade.

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