Vaccine Religious Exemption Debate

Public Health Committee Hears Testimony on Eliminating Religious Exemption

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It was an emotional day of testimony for the Public Health Committee which heard mostly from parents about their desire not to vaccinate their children while still being allowed to send them to public school. Nearly 2,000 people signed up to testify but the 24-hour cap on the public hearing means those at the end of the virtual line won’t be heard. 

“If you remove the religious exemption I will be forced to uproot my family and leave Connecticut,” Daniel Joseph said. 

Joseph said his wife’s autoimmune disease does not leave them with the option of homeschooling so they will be forced to move because his wife’s autoimmune disease is the same reason he can’t vaccinate his children. 

“Medicine is never one size fits all and I understand you guys want to protect the public health but you can’t legislate a bill like this,” Joseph said. 

Not all parents share the same point of view. 

Kerri Raissian of Avon witnessed what happened when her youngest son got chicken pox before his first dose of the Varicella vaccine. 

“No parent should ever have to go through that with their child,” Raissian said.  

She said her son was covered with over 400 lesions. 

“I just assumed that because we got our children vaccinated on time that they would be fine that they would be safe, but that’s not true because vaccinations take time,” Raissian said. 

She plans on testifying in favor of the bills. 

The legislation was first proposed in 2019 following the measles outbreak in New York. It was the largest measles outbreak in 20 years. 

“It’s much more contagious than covid and obviously the results, especially on children are far more dire and impactful,” House Speaker Matt Ritter said. 

Ritter -- a proponent of the legislation and the father of two young children  --  has been pushing for this legislation. 

Gov. Ned Lamont is also supportive. 

“I’m certainly in favor of making sure we have more and more kids vaccinated and if I find, if it looks like people are using the religious exemption and we’re less likely to have people vaccinated in our schools and it’s more risky for their fellow students and more risky for teachers, I think the legislature’s on the right path,” Lamont said. 

The public hearing will go until 9:30 a.m. Wednesday. It was capped at 24 hours.

“The fact that you’re going to cut off testimony on these two bills after hearing almost 24 hours of testimony last year and having close to 2,000 people want to testify today. I’m sorry it’s nothing less than abhorrent,” Melissa Sullivan said. 

Sullivan who is opposed to the two bills says there’s no reason the state needs to be taking this step. 

“You’re going to be removing healthy children out of our schools. Children that are already so taxed right now,” Sullivan said. 

Those opposed to the legislation say they’re concerned the state is going to add HPV, flu and COVID vaccines to the list of childhood vaccines required to attend public schools. 

“I think it’s critical to note that the COVID-19 vaccine, both the moderna and the pfizer vaccine, have not been tested or approved for minors. It’s dangerous to conflate the two during the course of this public hearing,” Sen. Will Haskell said. 

Parents who testified in opposition to the legislation say they still would not vaccinate their children if the legislation passes. 

“I will not be bullied into making medical choices that may be detrimental to my kids,” Maddalena Cirignotta said. 

As a result of her decision not to give her children all 72 doses of 16 vaccines, Cirignotta says pediatricians have refused to treat her children making it hard to get a medical exemption.

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