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House Sends Childhood Immunization Bill to Senate

House Speaker Matt Ritter (CTNewsJunkie photo)

The bill passed the House early Tuesday morning after 16 hours of debate.

By Christine Stuart,CTNewsJunkie.com

After at least three years of controversy and public protests, the House voted on a bill that will remove the use of the religious exemption to childhood vaccinations for some children if they wish to enroll in school.

The bill passed 90-53 after 16 hours of debate following a significant concession to families already holding exemptions from vaccinating their children from measles, whooping cough, and other highly contagious diseases.

Rep. Michelle Cook, D-Torrington, introduced an amendment an hour into the debate that would allow any child currently enrolled in kindergarten through sixth grade to continue to use their religious exemption for the rest of their school career. The original bill said only those in seventh grade and above would be allowed to keep their religious exemption.

“We’ve heard the concern about removing students from school so what this amendment does, simply, but it’s a huge change to change the seventh grade grandfathering to kindergarten,” Cook said.

The amendment passed 106-36.

The bill goes into effect in September 2022, but it would not apply to any child that currently has a religious exemption.

Families testified during a 24-hour public hearing that it would force them to make untenable decisions about their children’s education because it would divide families or force families who can’t afford it, to homeschool. Some children would be able to continue their education and other parents felt they would be forced to keep children home because they don’t believe they should be vaccinated and may not be able to get a medical exemption.

Parents against eliminating the religious exemption argued that under the original proposal it would displace up to 10,000 students from school. According to the Department of Public Health, there are nearly 8.300 students with religious exemptions enrolled in school for the 2020-2021 school year.

Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, said it’s unknown how many students would be displaced by lowering the age to kindergarten.

He said it was also unclear how many people would be impacted under the original proposal.

He said the reason they were tackling the issue is public health.

“Let me be clear, vaccine hesitancy is becoming a direct and serious threat to the public health,” Steinberg said. “It demands a proactive approach, not a reactive one dependent on quarantines and contact tracing. We’ve seen how that’s gone.”

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