Vaccine Religious Exemption Debate

Conn. Senate to Vote on Removing Religious Exemptions for Child Vaccinations

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Removing religious exemptions for child vaccinations has drawn massive crowds to the state Capitol in protest and tomorrow, the Connecticut Senate will vote on it after the bill passed in the House last week with a vote of 90 to 53.

Both Democrats and Republicans referenced a list from the Department of Public Health. It shows more than 100 schools that are out of compliance and don't meet the 95% herd immunity threshold.

“There’s as many as 100 schools at any given time with vaccination rates below the community immunity threshold. Each of these schools is becoming a potential vector for a disease outbreak,” said Jonathan Steinberg, a democrat who co-chairs the public health committee.  

“How many children were religious exemptions, how many were medical exemptions, how many were noncompliant? Nobody could get the answers," said Rep. Anne Dauphinais, (R) Killingly, Plainfield.

After at least three years of controversy and public protests, the state House of Representatives voted on a bill that will remove the use of the religious exemption to childhood vaccinations for children if they wish to enroll in school.

NBC Connecticut reached out to schools at the top of the list, who are 45%, 46% and 48% out of compliance. That means that 40% of the students there are not fully vaccinated. Here are the school’s most recent data.

In Hartford, Burr School was listed as 42.6% noncompliant on the Dept. of Public Health list. At this time, the school dropped to 20% noncompliant with have two medical exemptions, one religious and 69 noncompliant students, 27 of which are remote learners.

Sand School in Hartford was listed as 40% noncompliant. It has no medical exemptions, two religious and one student still noncompliant, who is remote.

Kinsella School in Hartford was listed as 30.8% noncompliant. It has no medical exemptions, five religious and 25 noncompliant, 19 of which are remote.

Laurel School in Bloomfield was listed as 45.1% noncompliant. It has one medical exemption, five religious and 23 noncompliant students, including 11 remote learners.

Museum Academy in the CREC district was listed as 47% noncompliant. It has 1.5% medical exemptions, 3% religious and 12.9% noncompliant.

For some of those schools, the noncompliant children far outweigh those with religious exemptions.

The district said that list that DPH has is just a snapshot of the beginning of the year and the school nurses spend months getting everyone up to speed. This year, many of the students remained remote as well.

The bill to remote the religious exemption is coming up for a vote in the Senate tomorrow.

“You’re concerned about a major outbreak because of those few children? Well, look, the reality is the vaccines have been victims of their own success. There have been two generations who have gone by who have not seen the ugly faces of these disease," said (D) Vice Chair of the Public Health Committee Sen. Saud Anwar. 

“Public health is more critical in some situations and we have to look at the broader good, not for a few weeks, not for one month, for many many years to come," Anwar added.

Sen. Anwar recognizes there are far more children that are noncompliant compared to those with religious exemptions, but still believes the state should remove the religious exemption.

“We have a society where people look at everything as their choice, their personal choice and we have to respect that because that’s patient’s autonomy. When a patient’s autonomy is going to result in a collective danger to others, that’s when we have to have a public health making,” said Anwar.

“I’m not sure what the impetus is in terms of a health perspective," said (R) Deputy Senate Republican Leader Sen. Paul Formica. “I think there’s got to be a conversation that honors that religious right and honors a mom’s choice for her children and I think works to educates those that are not compliant and bring them into the vaccine fold if they’re willing.”

Sen. Formica went on to say, "let’s get the kids who are non-compliant. Let’s take a year or two and focus on that and see what the vaccination rate in Connecticut climbs to when we’re able to get all of those non-compliant kids vaccinated.”

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