For the June Issue, we chose to focus on repealing religious vaccine exemptions. In all of our columns, we will discuss each political party’s opinion on an issue as well as our own personal opinions.
Facts: For the past several years, there has been a trend among Generation X and Millenial parents to refrain from vaccinating their children, which they have been getting away with by claiming religious prerogatives. According to the department of public health, approximately 7,800 children were exempt from vaccinations for religious reasons for the 2018-19 school year. However, this will soon no longer be an option for Connecticut residents, as a bill was advanced that prohibits parents from not vaccinating their children if they wish to place them in public or private schools, according to CT Mirror. On the other hand, students that are already in school can continue through Grade 12. Medical exemptions are still valid but must be approved by a physician. The bill also requires the public health commissioner to publish vaccination records of each school, making city and state vaccination rates public knowledge.
Democrat: The bill was passed by the majority of Democratic representatives and voted against by two Democrats and nine Republicans. In general, the Democratic party has been vocal about the importance of vaccines, especially in regards to public education. East Coast states have the highest vaccination rate out of any other region in the country. This being a primarily blue region, it can be concluded that vaccination is a priority among Democrats. In response to the measles outbreak of 2019, Democrats in each state are trying to make it harder for people to be exempt from vaccinating their children, but not without pushback from the Republican party.
Republican: In August, Connecticut Republican representatives and conservative caucus members sent a letter to the public health commissioner urging her to not take a position on repealing religious exemption, explaining that it is not her place. They have also asked her not to push for legislation to increase vaccination rates. They believe that because the data from 134 schools had vaccine rates fewer than 95 percent of kindergarteners, it is not a threat to the public health of the state, even though this threshold is recommended by the Center for Disease Control’s (CDC) guidelines for herd immunity. They also said that they do not believe that increasing vaccine rates would solve the threat if it threatened public health. Many Republicans also spoke out in October, saying that the law would infringe on constitutional rights to religious freedom and public education.
Our view: We believe that although religious freedom is important, our public health is as well. This bill would not force people physically unable to receive vaccines to get them, while would only require people religiously exempt to get them. While religion is a very personal matter, the percentage of children exempt from vaccines due to religious reasons is increasing, according to CT Mirror. The government needs to do everything in its power to ensure we stay in line with the CDC’s guidelines, including making sure that our schools have “herd immunity.” Without herd immunity, many children who did not have a choice to get the vaccine due to medical reasons such as immunocompromisation or other health complications would be put at risk of infectious diseases such as measles or tuberculosis. Vaccination is crucial to keeping all children safe in schools.