Lawmakers to Debate Elimination of Religious Exemption to Vaccines

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Before COVID hit in March, the hottest topic at the state capitol was whether to eliminate the religious exemption to childhood vaccines. With the COVID vaccine on everyone's mind, does that complicate the debate? 

“It’s probably not complicated by the facts but probably more complicated by the emotion of it,” incoming House Speaker Matt Ritter said.  

Ritter has promised a vote on the issue next year.

Last February, the Public Health Committee spent 22 hours listening to public testimony on the topic. The two house democrats to vote against the bill have since been assigned different committees.

“I had to make some tough decisions, but I made them,” Ritter said of the committee assignments.

The COVID vaccine is not available to anyone under the age of 16, but Rep. Vincent Candelora said it’s not time to be having this debate.

“We’re trying to address the pandemic [and] one of the concerns is the vaccine hesitancy that’s out there and I think these types of issues will have the absolute opposite effect that we want,” Candelora said. 

He said when you talk about removing the religious exemption, you initiate a conversation about people who have been harmed by vaccines.

“I don’t think that type of dialogue is a good conversation to have right now when we’re trying to encourage people to get vaccinated for the COVID virus,” Candelora said.

Senate President Martin Looney said the need for the legislation is more important now.

“I think the need for it is even more evident now in the wake of the COVID pandemic,” Looney said. 

“People I think in some ways have become too casual about diseases for which there are vaccines and think it’s safe not to take the vaccines," he continued.

“They’re lulled into a false sense of security by not having to deal with the virulent, fatal nature of some diseases when they’re not controlled by vaccines,” Looney said.

Ritter proposed the legislation last year following the measles outbreak and the first release of school-by-school vaccination data.

“The real focus of the bill is on measles, mumps and rubella. Obviously, we’ve seen measles outbreaks in the country and I do believe that the General Assembly and the governor support getting rid of the religious exemption for vaccines,” Ritter said.

He added that “at the end of the day, we were alarmed and troubled by the numbers we saw in Connecticut.”

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