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End religious vaccine exemption, no exception

The political considerations make sense, but the health considerations are far more important. A bill that would eliminate Connecticut’s religious exemption from vaccines for students in public schools should not include an exception for children already in school.

Requiring all students to be vaccinated before they enter public school, unless they have a legitimate medical reason, should not be controversial, but it is. State legislators know they will face a political backlash from a relatively small but vocal group of parents who want the right to keep their kids unvaccinated.

To improve chances of passage, lawmakers are considering an exception that would allow unvaccinated children presently in school to remain enrolled, without vaccination, until graduation from high school. The logic is that these parents, at least, would be less adamant in their opposition.

Firstly, that’s probably not true and, secondly, requiring vaccinations is the right thing to do for the health of all students and therefore exceptions should not be made. Pass the law and require vaccinations. If parents want to move their children to private schools, or to home school, to avoid vaccinations, that will be their right.

In fact, we agree with Brian Festa of the CT Freedom Alliance, which opposes the repeal of the religious exemption, that grandfathering in some students makes no sense.

“Either it’s a freedom worth protecting, or it’s a freedom not worth protecting,” he told the Connecticut Mirror.

Unlike Festa, however, we conclude it is not a freedom worth protecting. Just like screaming “fire” in a crowded audience, or driving after drinking too much, or building a structure how you want and not to code are not “freedoms” worth protecting.

That is because exercising these “freedoms” endangers others, as does failing to have a child vaccinated.

The most recent state data shows that in 134 public schools fewer than 95 percent of kindergartners were vaccinated against measles, mumps and rubella. Falling below the 95 percent threshold eliminates the herd immunity necessary to protect against disease outbreaks, a situation that particularly endangers students with compromised immune systems who have legitimate reasons for not getting vaccinated.

With few exceptions, those claiming religious exemptions really have no spiritually based opposition, they simply don’t want their kids vaccinated. These parents are acting on false pseudo-science claims that vaccinations are linked to autism or other health issues. Science research has found no such correlation.

Yet the number of students getting the exemption is rapidly increasing. Religious exemptions to vaccinations increased by 25 percent from the 2017-2018 to the 2018-2019 school years.

Gov. Ned Lamont and Department of Public Health Commissioner Renee D. Coleman-Mitchell have called on the legislature to eliminate the religious exemption. It should.

The commissioner recommends the legislature make the new policy effective for the 2021-2022 school year, giving school districts and families time to prepare. That makes sense.

And lawmakers should prepare to tighten up what constitutes a legitimate medical exemption. States that have ended the religious exemption have seen a spike in medical exemption requests.

Do the right thing to protect the public, senators and House members, require vaccinations for public school students.

 

The Day editorial board meets regularly with political, business and community leaders and convenes weekly to formulate editorial viewpoints. It is composed of President and Publisher Tim Dwyer, Managing Editor Izaskun E. Larrañeta, staff writer Erica Moser and retired deputy managing editor Lisa McGinley. However, only the publisher and editorial page editor are responsible for developing the editorial opinions. The board operates independently from the Day newsroom.

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