West Virginia lawmakers approve bill that rolls back one of the nation’s strongest childhood vaccine laws

(Tom Hindman/Associated Press)

West Virginia lawmakers approve bill that rolls back one of the nation’s strongest childhood vaccine laws


March 9, 2024

West Virginia’s Republican Party-controlled state legislature voted Saturday to exempt some students who do not attend traditional public schools from the state’s vaccination requirements, long considered among the strongest in the nation.

The bill passed over the objections of Senate Health and Human Services Chairman Mike Maroney, a Republican and physician, who called the bill an embarrassment and said he believed lawmakers were harming the state.

I took an oath to do no harm. There is zero chance that I can vote for this bill, Maroney said before the bill passed the Senate by an 18-12 vote. The House passed a version of the bill in February and quickly passed the Senate bill on Saturday, the last day of the state’s 60-day deadline. legislative session.

It’s a bad bill for West Virginia, it’s a step backwards. There is no question, no question that there will be negative impacts,” Maroney said. He added: “It’s a shame for me to be part of it; it should be a shame for everyone.

West Virginia, which has one of the lowest life expectancies in the U.S. and a quarter of all children living in poverty, is one of only two states, along with California, that does not allow non-medical exemptions from vaccinations as a condition of entry until school.

Mississippi had the same policy until July, when a judge allowed people to cite religious beliefs to seek an exemption from state-mandated vaccinations that children must receive before attending daycare or school.

The West Virginia vaccine bill, which now heads to the GOP desk. Jim Justice allows virtual public school students to be exempt and private and parochial schools to set their own policies exempting or not exempting students.

All students participating in school activities in West Virginia that result in competition, including but not limited to sports, are still required to be vaccinated.

The bill provides that parents may not sue private schools and school owners, administrators, boards and staff for deciding whether to grant exemptions, as long as the school provides families with an annual notice and upon enrollment requiring parents to sign the policy.

Personally, I am not pushing for passage, but your health committee has pushed for passage of this bill, Maroney said before introducing the bill in the Senate.

The original intent of the bill, as introduced in the state House of Representatives, was to eliminate vaccination requirements for students in public virtual schools. It was expanded in a House committee to allow private schools to set their own vaccination standards unless a student is participating in sanctioned athletics.

The bill also created a religious exemption for any child whose parents or guardians provide a letter stating that the child cannot be vaccinated for religious reasons. That was deleted in the Senate version.

At the Senate Health Committee meeting earlier this week, Professor Dr. Alvin Moss advocated for the bill, saying the state’s current mandatory vaccination policy is medically unethical because it does not allow for informed consent.

The number of parents who don’t want their children to get vaccinations is growing, Moss said.

In 2017, the anti-vaccine need group West Virginians for Health Freedom had 300 families

included in its members

. That number has grown to at least 3,000 members by 2024, Moss said.

Former West Virginia Republican Rep. Chanda Adkins, a group member, said at the meeting that religious families who don’t want to vaccinate their children deserve to be able to live by their beliefs.

Former West Virginia Medical Assn. Dr. Lisa Costello disagreed, saying the state’s current vaccine policy is the “gold standard” across the country.

West Virginia is considered a national leader when it comes to our routine childhood immunizations,” she said, later adding: Measles doesn’t care whether you go to a private school or a public school. Measles does not discriminate depending on where you go to school. .”

West Virginia law requires children to receive vaccines against chickenpox, hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, mumps, diphtheria, polio, rubella, tetanus and whooping cough, unless they receive a medical exemption. West Virginia does not require COVID-19 vaccinations.

Willingham writes for the Associated Press.


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