MHA last week testified in favor of proposed legislation that would eliminate the religious exemption as a reason to refuse vaccinations for school admittance.
Specifically, MHA endorsed House Bill 3999, An Act relative to vaccines and public health, which would eliminate the religious exemption for school-age children, and expressed support for provisions of Senate Bill 2359/House Bill 4096 that would increase state data collection on vaccination rates to help stakeholders identify of regions of concern.
MHA’s Senior Director of Strategy and Government Advocacy Emily Dulong testified before the Joint Committee on Public Health, saying that the state’s 95% vaccination rate is impressive, but that “there are still pockets of the commonwealth that struggle with noticeably high vaccine rejection numbers, endangering the health of immuno-compromised patients with a medical exemption and that of children too young to be inoculated.”
She added, “Use of the religious exemption to refuse vaccinations has risen significantly in recent years, at a level that does not appear to mirror expanded religious practice by Massachusetts residents. No major religion formally opposes vaccines. This is important to note, as more than 75% of current vaccination exemptions in Massachusetts cite religious reasons. Over the last 30 years, use of the religious exemption for children in the commonwealth has grown by 500%.”
Dulong testified on a panel with Todd Foy, manager of government affairs & public policy at the Mass. League of Community Health Centers; and Carlene Pavlos, executive director of the Massachusetts Public Health Association. The Massachusetts Medical Society has also endorsed H3999.
The bill’s author, Rep. Andres Vargas (D-Haverhill), delivered an impassioned defense of his legislation. “I have sat with parents who have used the religious exemptions and can say the majority are good-hearted people who just want what is best for their kids,” the State House News Service quoted Vargas as saying. “Unfortunately, figuring out what is best for your kids is increasingly difficult in the era of pseudoscience, digital misinformation campaigns and people who profit from the anti-vax movement … The science is settled. Vaccines are safe and incredibly effective. They are constantly cited as one of the greatest human advances, saving millions of lives and billions in healthcare dollars.” Vargas said the debate on the bill shouldn’t be about the science behind vaccines, but rather about whether there exists a religious right “to put other children at risk in schools across the commonwealth for no science or medically based reason.”