Lawmakers have scheduled a public hearing on a bill to repeal the state's religious exemption from vaccines on Feb. 19.
Legislators have organized a hearing for Monday to discuss the prospect of abolishing the state’s religious exemption on vaccines.
Legislators have organized a hearing for Monday to discuss the prospect of abolishing the state’s religious exemption on vaccines.

Lawmakers who have called for an end to the state’s religious exemption on vaccines scheduled a public hearing for Monday on the issue, a possible first step in introducing 11th hour legislation to repeal the provision.

Buoyed by data released last week by the Connecticut Department of Public Health, which showed a slew of schools with kindergarten immunization rates below the 95 percent threshold recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, legislators said they have accelerated their timetable for eliminating the exemption.

“Based upon the information we’ve received, there’s a growing group of legislators that think we may have to act this session,” House Majority Leader Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, said. “We want to have the hearing and see where it goes.”

The hearing will run from 9:30 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday in room 2E of the Legislative Office Building. Ritter organized the event with Rep. Liz Linehan, D- Cheshire; Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, D-Westport, a co-chair of the legislature’s Public Health Committee; Senate Majority Leader Bob Duff, D-Norwalk; and Sen. Derek Slap, D-West Hartford.

Ritter stopped short of saying when legislation might be introduced to repeal the religious exemption, or what vehicle lawmakers would use to do this. There are less than four weeks left in the legislative session.

The overall immunization rate of Connecticut students is more than 98 percent, but data show a surprising number of schools with high rates of unvaccinated children, according to figures released by the state health department. Exemptions were handed out for religious and medical reasons.

More than eight dozen schools reported that more than five percent of their students claimed exemptions, while the DPH identified 102 schools where less than 95 percent of kindergarten students were vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella.

A handful of schools reported incorrect data last week. Revised percentages for the 12 schools were released by the health department Friday.

The updated figures show Housatonic Valley Waldorf School, a private institution in Newtown, had the highest exemption rate at 37.7 percent. All of the waivers were granted on religious grounds.

Giant Steps CT, a private school in Fairfield for children with learning and developmental disorders, and Crossway Christian Academy, a private school in Putnam, also had high exemption rates, at 34.2 percent and 25.9 percent, respectively. At both institutions, all of the waivers were handed out for religious reasons.

The revelations alarmed legislative leaders and Gov. Ned Lamont, who called the assessment “startling” and said the lower rates must be addressed, though he did not elaborate.

Reps. Matthew Ritter, center, Josh Elliott, left, and Liz Linehan, right, called for an end to the religious exemption on vaccines during a press conference in March.

“After discussing it with Sen. [Martin] Looney and the speaker and the governor’s office and the DPH commissioner, we thought this was a necessary hearing to discuss the data, which obviously we’re all very concerned about,” Ritter said Friday.

Even before the data release, Ritter and Linehan held a press conference in March seeking to curtail the religious exemption, though they did not say when the effort would begin.

The repeal would not force children to be immunized. It would prohibit kids who are not vaccinated on religious grounds from enrolling in the state’s public schools.

California, Mississippi and West Virginia have eliminated their religious and philosophical exemptions to vaccine mandates.

Earlier this week, Attorney General William Tong issued an opinion saying lawmakers’ quest to wipe out the exemption in Connecticut does not violate the state or federal constitutions. Ritter had asked Tong to weigh in on the issue.

Tong did not take a position on whether the General Assembly should repeal the provision.“That is a policy decision entrusted exclusively to the judgment of the legislature and the governor,” he said.

Forty-one Republican legislators and three Democrats wrote a letter to the attorney general in April expressing fierce opposition to the repeal.

“It is our firm belief that the elimination of the religious exemption would violate the First and Fourteenth Amendments of the United States Constitution, at least five provisions of Connecticut’s Constitution, and at least three Connecticut general statutes,” they wrote. “We hope you will join us in our firm conviction that Connecticut should never be a state that favors certain religious beliefs to the exclusion of others.”

Tong noted in his opinion that the Mississippi Supreme Court had struck down a state exemption based on religious beliefs, and the Fourth Circuit Court of Appeals upheld West Virginia’s decision to get rid of its religious exclusion.

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Jenna CarlessoHealth Reporter

Jenna is CT Mirror’s Health Reporter, focusing on health access, affordability, quality, equity and disparities, social determinants of health, health system planning, infrastructure, processes, information systems, and other health policy. Before joining CT Mirror Jenna was a reporter at The Hartford Courant for 10 years, where she consistently won statewide and regional awards. Jenna has a Master of Science degree in Interactive Media from Quinnipiac University and a Bachelor or Arts degree in Journalism from Grand Valley State University.

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3 Comments

  1. This is all well and good, but religious objections to vaccines are hardly the problem.

    Jenny McCarthy, Robert Kennedy, and Oprah are way bigger issues.

    https://www.google.com/search?ei=exTWXOSoM9KQggeFkpqgAQ&q=jenny+mccarthy+robert+kennedy+and+vaccines&oq=jenny+mccarthy+robert+kennedy+and+vaccines&gs_l=psy-ab.12…13678.16507..18445…0.0..0.101.946.10j1……0….1..gws-wiz.Z2SYvLH2oP0&fbclid=IwAR3SArY68icHOcG41tJIUT6-N5D1kRBolSTvF9LjlvGrom-tpnxDuKpuYQE

    1. All well and good? Benjamin Franklin once said: “Those who would give up essential Liberty, to purchase a little temporary Safety, deserve neither Liberty nor Safety.”

  2. Why not give complete picture. It works out to be 1.32 (round up to 1 ) kid per school for religious and .25 for medical per school. Parents have a right to decide on either religious or personal beliefs what to inject and feed their children. What makes any person think one size fits all people all kids. The MMR vaccine had less than 800 children and only observed for 42;days and half had outcomes of GI, respiratory as well as “rashes and measles” during clinical trials but allowed to go to market by the FDA. Some parents want drive through immune fixes ie vaccines and others are educated on vaccines and want to build their children up. Pasteur said “it is not the microbe but the terrain” that should be of concern. We are surrounded with billions or trillions of microbes and the 16 16 vaccine types are ether bacteria or viruses and will not protect you but ness your terrain. From 2000-2011 there was 134 people (children) killed by MMR vaccines and according to CDC that is only 1% of reported cases because doctors think it is just a coincidental incident and don’t report. I will let you figure how many died from measles that didn’t have an underlying issue prior to the”measles”. By law Doctors should be reporting to vaers.hhs.gov but pHARMa dogma (vaccine religion ) says it is safe and effective.

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