Massachusetts lawmakers consider cutting religious vaccine exemption for students
Beacon Hill is wading into the tumultuous territory of school vaccine requirements as lawmakers vet proposals to tighten school precautions against future outbreaks.
Driving the news: The Public Health Committee meets Wednesday to consider a handful of vaccine bills, including legislation to completely eliminate the state's religious exemption option and to standardize the student vaccine exemption system.
Why it matters: Vaccine mandates for children have always been a political minefield. Even Democrats in favor of the bills know they will be bombarded by comments from vaccine opponents if they come up for votes.
Zoom in: Rep. Andy Vargas (D-Haverhill), the sponsor of a bill to eliminate the religious exemption, told Axios the state has a responsibility to protect immunocompromised children from unvaccinated students.
- Vargas said anti-vaccine parents are using the religious exemption as a loophole to carry out their skepticism of science, not from any sincere religious belief.
The big picture: Massachusetts would become the seventh state to only allow medical exemptions for K-12 student vaccine requirements, joining California, West Virginia, Mississippi, Rhode Island, Maine and New York.
A separate bill with broader support wouldn't do away with the religious exemption but would standardize how exemptions are processed and tracked.
- Sen. Becca Rausch (D-Needham)'s bill would require more data collection and create standardized forms through the Department of Public Health.
State of play: K-12 students in Massachusetts are required to be immunized against diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis B, and chickenpox.
- Currently, districts are in charge of processing vaccine exemptions and voluntarily report immunization data to the state.
The other side: Several groups plan to testify in person and virtually against the bills.
- The right-wing Massachusetts Family Institute warned this week that standardizing the exemption process and making immunization data public would create bureaucracy and shame schools and parents.
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