HARTFORD — We’re learning new information that could change the debate over eliminating the religious exemption for parents who don’t want to vaccinate their children.
It’s arguably the most emotionally debated proposal of the legislative session. We learned Tuesday that a vote is possible this week. It will likely come through an amendment that could be attached to any random healthcare bill. We also learned it may mean vaccinations would be required for more than just school students.
“They’re not going to force us to vaccinate but if you want to go to public school than you must vaccinate,” said Melissa Sullivan of Health Choice Connecticut. And we’re learning it’s not just schools. Republicans told us language of the amendment was just handed over to their lawyers Tuesday and would include required vaccinations at day cares and nursing homes too.
Rep. Matt Ritter, (D) House Majority Leader said, “The numbers, I believe are shocking. I think we are very susceptible to an outbreak based on those numbers.” He’s talking about the new Department of Public Health numbers that show 109 schools below a 95% vaccination rate.
Rep. Joe Aresimowicz, (D) Speaker of the House said, “Early on it was oh that’s an interesting issue we should look more into it and then when the DPH numbers came out the caucus started talking about it a lot more.”
Democratic House Leadership said as early as last month they wanted a vote on religious exemption within 12 months. Now the caucus is locked in on the issue. Republicans aren’t as convinced.
Rep. Themis Klarides, (R) House Minority Leader said, “There was just an informational hearing yesterday which is just a little game the legislature plays when they don’t want to have a real public hearing because they didn’t propose a bill.”
The hearing brought hundreds of members of a vocal minority to the Capitol who believe parents should have the ultimate decision on vaccinations.
“Those emotions are those concerns are real. The problem is and the tough decision is the other people who can’t get vaccinated,” said Majority Leader Ritter.
Among those who testified were the Department of Public Health Commissioner, who didn’t commit to a position on whether the state should eliminate the religious exemption.
“I’m not saying it won’t become a problem or it’s not on the verge of a problem, but right now we don’t have enough information to change this and we should sit down, put good people together who understand this and figure out and study it and come back next year and change it if it needs to be changed,” said Minority Leader Klarides.
There are about 1,250 people who claim a religious exemption in Connecticut. The state also has a medical exemption. That would remain in place. There have been 3 cases of the measles in Connecticut so far this year and there are active outbreaks in 6 states.