religious exemptions

Public Health Committee to Weigh Eliminating Religious Exemption

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The Public Health Committee raised two bills today that would require all elementary school children to get vaccinated before attending public school. 

“It’s focusing on the medical exemption and removing the religious exemption,” Rep. Jonathan Steinberg said. 

Steinberg, who co-chairs the Public Health Committee, said the bills raised Friday are almost the same as the one raised last year.

“We made one change to the grandfathering to begin that in seventh grade and above, but the rest of the bill is the same,” Steinberg said. 

Steinberg said there was less of an issue with vaccination rates in the middle and high school and that’s why they focused on elementary school students. 

A measles outbreak in 2018 caused concern among Connecticut lawmakers who then sought to get the Department of Public Health to release the school-by-school vaccine data. Data for 2019 showed that there were 134 schools with vaccination rates for measles, mumps and rubella under recommended herd immunity of 95%.

“I find it difficult to know that we’re having this conversation when we haven’t even seen the most recent vaccination rates,” Rep. Christie Carpino said. 

Steinberg said the most recent data is likely not useful.

“Even if we had last year’s data, it would be anomalous and it would indicate that huge numbers of schools failed to be in compliance because children have not had their opportunity to get their vaccinations in the past year,” Steinberg said. 

“This is a pharma backed solution to a non-existent problem. The data they were relying on last year was extremely flawed,” LeeAnn Ducat said.

Ducat founder of Informed Choice CT said there’s no new information to make this legislation necessary. 

Republican lawmakers say the state should be using education to increase herd immunity rates.

“I believe with the proper education, we could do that. So my objection is more with timing and not the safety and efficacy of vaccinations. I think we could accomplish the same goal with more time,” Rep. Kathy McCarthy said.   

Amy Pisani of Vaccinate Your Family said before the pandemic, vaccination rates were dropping.

“Now that the pandemic has struck we are seeing fewer people going to the doctor and getting their kids vaccinated on time. So compounding with this already creeping up of exemptions makes me really nervous that finally when our kids do get back to school... that some of them will be really at risk,” Pisani said.

A public hearing on the bills will happen in the next few weeks.

Some lawmakers are concerned that not everyone will get a chance to testify on two bills that would eliminate the religious exemption to vaccinations for elementary school students.

“I think it’s important that we do not limit our testimony to only 24 hours because we will be shutting out people that won’t be able to testify. We would never have considered this if we were in-person,” Rep. Nicole Klarides-Ditria, R-Seymour, said. 

Steinberg said he doesn’t know if that’s accurate.

“It’s my intention and hope that everyone would have an opportunity to testify we were advised that an indefinite period that could last days and days might be impractical,” Steinberg said.

Last year, more than 5,000 people showed up at the state capitol for a hearing that lasted almost 23 hours.

“Last year, we had about 5,000 people showed up at the capitol about 600 people signed up to speak of those 600, 238 were able to finally testify after all was said and done, 88% of those testifiers objected to the bill, 12% supported the bill,” Ducat said.

Ducat was here all 23 hours last year and will be back virtually to oppose the bill this year.

“We’ve imposed a time limit that’s longer than any other committee that’s imposed a time limit and I should note longer than even last year’s hearing,” Steinberg said. 

Steinberg said anyone can submit written testimony, too, if they are unable to speak for three minutes before the committee.

Republicans on the committee were upset at the decision to limit testimony to 24 hours. 

“We’ve always allowed our residents of Connecticut to be heard and I just think there’s no excuse not to allow them to be heard.” 

Steinberg said the 24-hour limit was imposed by the chairs of the committee. 

“This is a decision by the chairs to impose what we believe is a reasonable time limit based upon practicalities,” Steinberg said. 

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