HARTFORD — Public health versus religious freedom. That was debate under the gold dome Wednesday as the always contentious topic of vaccinations came up again.
Wednesday’s news conference came just one day after a separate bill was pushed through to allow school nurses to refuse to sign the form allowing for a religious exemption. “We are going to call a bill within the next 12 months on the house floor to get rid of the religious exemption or some form of that,” said State Rep. Matt Ritter, the House Majority Leader.
It was the proclamation that brought families to the Capitol in protest. Leeann Ducat of Woodstock said, “No matter how anyone feels about the contentious topic of vaccinations, what it boils down too is that state power stops at my skin.”
Holding a ‘Vaccines Cause Adultism’ mug, Rep. Liz Linehan, a Democrat and the Chair of the General Assembly’s Children’s Committee said these families are missing facts. “I also don’t believe that they have the right science behind them,” said Linehan.
There are 1,250 families who claim the religious exemption in Connecticut. “You have hundreds if not thousands of kids with compromised immune systems. Who is going to speak for those kids?,” asked Rep. Ritter. One exemption won’t be touched. “The medical exemption will stay in place,” remarked State Rep. Josh Elliot.
Majority Leader Matt Ritter said no one will be forced to get a vaccine. “We would be saying you cannot enroll them in public schools in Connecticut.” That doesn’t sit well with the vocal minority. “Our children have the right to free public education,” rebutted Leeann Ducat.
Republicans State Rep. Vin Candelora is the Deputy Minority Leader. He said, “I think it does come down to parental choice.” And while Democrats sided with the medical community on the safety of vaccines, Rep. Candelora pumped the brakes. “I think that our government is a little reckless is saying everything is okay and we should be ingesting it.” Candelora is sponsoring a bill to prohibit multi-dose vaccines that contain the mercury based preservative Thimerosal from being given to children and pregnant moms.
“Do we want to wait until we have deaths and large wide scale outbreaks?” asked Rep. Elliot.
The CDC is reporting measles spread at levels not seen in the last 25 years with cases in 12 states so far this year, including Connecticut. The most recent reported in February in New Haven County.
The debate over whether autism spectrum disorders are caused by vaccines started in 1998 when the medical journal The Lancet published a now retracted study by researcher Andrew Wakefield linking the MMR vaccine to autism.
Most of Wakefield's co-authors withdrew their names from the study when they learned he had been compensated by a law firm intending to sue manufacturers of the vaccine in question. In 2010, Wakefield lost his medical license. In 2011, the Lancet retracted the study after an investigation found Wakefield altered or misrepresented information on the 12 children who were the basis for the conclusion of the study.
Other researchers have not been able to replicate Wakefield's findings. Several subsequent studies trying to reproduce the results have found no link between vaccines and autism, including several reviews by the Institute of Medicine.