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Senate considers religious exemption for vaccinations

By LACIE PIERSON

The Herald-Dispatch

CHARLESTON – The examination of individual rights vs. overall public safety was at the center of debate about a bill that would establish religious exemptions for vaccinations in West Virginia during a Senate Education Committee meeting Tuesday.

Senate Bill 537 would make a simpler process for West Virginians to establish grounds for medical exemptions to vaccinations, and would allow them to establish religious exemptions from having to receive vaccinations to attend public or private schools or obtain a job, if vaccinations are mandated by their employer.

Debate about the bill ended with no action, as the committee ran out of its allotted time Tuesday. The committee meets each Tuesday and Thursday.

Senators’ questions about the bill ranged from potential side effects of vaccines and how much physicians profited from giving them, to whether an individual’s right to choose to not be vaccinated, aside from medical reasons, was greater than the overall health of the community and establishment of herd immunity against certain diseases.

There also was discussion about whether physicians should be required to more clearly declare to patients the possible side effects and reactions that are possible to a given vaccination.

Sens. Mark Maynard, R-Wayne, and Richard Ojeda, D-Logan, are among the sponsors of the bill.

Currently, any student attending a public or private pre-K-12 school in West Virginia must be immunized against chickenpox, hepatitis-b, measles, meningitis, mumps, diphtheria, polio, rubella, tetanus and whooping cough.

State law allows for parents and guardians of West Virginia students to get medical exemptions from vaccinations, through a defined process. No other means of exemption from vaccinations are available in West Virginia.

Children’s caregivers must get documentation from their physician showing a vaccination could be detrimental to the child, based on the child’s physical condition.

The documentation is then sent to the West Virginia Immunization Officer, who decides whether the exemption will be granted.

Under SB 537, the authority of the immunization officer would be taken away, and documentation from a physician would be sufficient enough for a vaccination exemption.

The bill also would allow for adults on their own behalf, or parents and guardians on their children’s behalves, to provide a notarized document that states vaccinations are contradictory to a family’s or individual’s religious beliefs.

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