Rep. Mike France: Repealing religious exemption for vaccines unnecessary

Rep. Mike France, R-Ledyard, elaborated Wednesday on a letter he signed last month urging the state Department of Public Health commissioner not to take a position on repealing the state's religious exemption for vaccines, saying that absent a health crisis, she shouldn't weigh in to change policy.

The issue dates to May, when the department released data showing 102 schools in Connecticut had kindergarten measles, mumps and rubella vaccination rates below 95 percent, the threshold that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends.

Democratic legislators made the controversial decision to hold a public hearing on a last-minute bill to eliminate the religious exemption for vaccines but ultimately pumped the brakes. They then asked Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell for an opinion, which she has not provided.

On July 30, five Republican representatives wrote to Coleman-Mitchell, "We believe that it is wholly inappropriate for the legislators to be seeking your opinion regarding the elimination of the religious exemption in Connecticut. That is a question of constitutional and civil rights law. It is not a charge of your agency to offer opinions on civil rights issues."

Along with France, those legislators were Anne Dauphinais of Danielson, Craig Fishbein of Wallingford, Rick Hayes of Putnam and David Wilson of Litchfield, all members of the General Assembly's Conservative Caucus.

"Even the CDC has not come out and declared a national health crisis, so this is a political move by people who have an agenda," France said by phone Wednesday. He added, "There's really no data to back up a need to change policy."

He said if there were a public health emergency, he would first expect the commissioner to back that up with data and determine the cause. If the department were to determine that a U.S.-born child with a religious exemption caused the outbreak, France said, then he would expect the commissioner to consider making a recommendation.

The measles outbreak in New York originated with people who recently traveled to Israel, while "Patient Zero" in the Washington outbreak also was visiting from outside the country.

Beyond imploring Coleman-Mitchell to not offer an opinion, the legislators also wrote they "feel strongly that there is no need for legislation to increase vaccination rates." They also questioned the scientific basis for CDC's 95 percent threshold for "herd immunity," and France was troubled by the idea of using one threshold for all vaccines.

The Connecticut Mirror reported that members of the Connecticut chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Connecticut Academy of Family Physicians, along with Democrats for Education Reform CT, have called for the repeal of the vaccine exemption.

e.moser@theday.com

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