Lawmakers have scheduled a public hearing on a bill to repeal the state's religious exemption from vaccines on Feb. 19.
Lawmakers have scheduled a public hearing on a bill to repeal the state’s religious exemption from vaccines on Feb. 19.
Lawmakers have scheduled a public hearing on a bill to repeal the state’s religious exemption from vaccines on Feb. 19.

Lawmakers seeking to repeal Connecticut’s religious exemption from vaccines delivered a strict opening salvo Friday – a proposal that children who are not vaccinated on religious grounds be barred from attending public and private schools beginning next fall.

In the first draft of the contentious bill, legislators call for unvaccinated children – except those who abstain for medical reasons – to be prohibited from attending school beginning in the 2020-21 year.

Public Health Commissioner Renee Coleman-Mitchell had previously suggested the exemption be erased starting Oct. 21, 2021 – a full year later – to give parents time to adjust. But lawmakers are pressing for a tighter timetable.

“The consensus that has been reached to date is this is a growing problem and the trends are very troublesome,” House Majority Leader Matthew Ritter, D-Hartford, said Friday. “There are Republicans and Democrats who are united in the notion that Connecticut has to do something or else we’re going to wake up in three years and have 3,000, 4,000 or 5,000 more kids without vaccinations enrolled in the schools.”

In the bill, lawmakers also are directing the Department of Public Health to release school-by-school immunization data on an annual basis. Coleman-Mitchell published the school-level data for the first time last May. The initial round showed immunization rates for the 2017-18 year.

Coleman-Mitchell initially declined to release a subsequent round of data – for the 2018-19 school year – but was overruled by Gov. Ned Lamont. Data for 2018-19 was released in October, showing there were 134 schools at which fewer than 95% of kindergarteners received a measles vaccination. The 95% threshold is recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to maintain herd immunity.

If passed by the General Assembly, the bill also would establish a board to examine Connecticut’s vaccine program and advise the health commissioner. The group would have regular discussions with physicians who are in a position to grant medical exemptions.

“We’re giving them pretty wide responsibility to look at things like educating practitioners, so [physicians] are in a better position to have communication with families, and then looking at outliers or other issues that may occur as a result of legislation,” Rep. Jonathan Steinberg, a co-chair of the Public Health Committee, said Friday.

Lawmakers who participated in a working group that offered input on the issue expressed frustration Friday at what they called a lack of transparency around the bill.

Rep. Vincent Candelora, R-North Branford, said despite serving as a member of the group for months, he saw the bill for the first time on Friday.

“We had drafts in the working group, but that language was thrown out and we were later told there was all new language,” he said. “I think it really points to a major problem. It’s very disconcerting that these elected officials are turning our open government process into a secret one. That’s why the public doesn’t trust us.”

Brian Festa, a co-founder of CT Freedom Alliance, which opposes the plan, took issue with several of the bill’s mandates, including the annual release of school-level data. Festa had filed a lawsuit seeking to stop the disclosure of school-by-school immunization rates.

“In one fell swoop, this legislation would obliterate the religious liberties of hundreds of thousands of Connecticut schoolchildren, while simultaneously mandating the Department of Public Health to release confidential immunization information for every public and private school student in the state,” he said.

Lawmakers have scheduled a Feb. 19 public hearing on the bill at the state’s Legislative Office Building.

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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11 Comments

  1. Yes, this really needs to be done! People are dying from flu, including babies and adults who cannot take a vaccine. My good friend is allergic to eggs and cannot get a vaccine. Why should she risk unnecessary exposure to flu and dying because of a religious mythology that she doesn’t share? And some of those exemptions are probably issued under false pretenses to parents who still believe that lie about vaccines and autism. Our Assembly should vote to protect life.

    1. I am a PRO-LIFE Christian and there are aborted fetal cells in vaccines. Not to mention “porcine,” and “bovine” cells. Read the Inserts.

    2. People die from complications due to many issues. 3 doses in 1963 – 72 doses now. There is growing information, albeit we are not allowed to know, that there is major damage and it is unreported as there is no law that the medical community has to report vaccine injuries. Every year that I got the flu vaccine I got the flu. Then I read the statistics. Not good.

      1. Hi Lori, in the interest of fostering deeper discussion, can you provide a citation for “growing information” of “major damage?”

  2. Yes, Religious Exemptions should be discontinued in CT and in the US. Herd immunizations are necessary to protect the health of all of us. Also, I am unaware of any religion which prohibits immunizations. So the Religious Exemption is a fallacy, it is actually a Personal Philosophy of some parents who are against vaccines. So if the “Religious” Exemption is continued in CT, the name should be changed. Call it what it is, a Personal Philosophy Vaccine Refusal! Do we want that permissible in CT? I don’t.

    1. I am a PRO-LIFE Christian and there are aborted fetal cells in vaccines. And there is no such thing as “herd immunity.” I had measles 60 years ago–no vaccine–so THEORETICALLY I am a threat because I haven’t had a measles vaccine within “the last 10 years.” You’re probably just a paid pharma shill.

  3. I flat out do not believe the commenter’s statement that there are aborted fetal cells in vaccines-I assume that he or she means human ones given the sentence structure used. Note not posting under real name. In God we trust; all others must bring data. And a real name. I’ve heard that people have been known to use rumors and scare tactics regarding this issue…not a good thing in matters of public health.

  4. 1963 three doses – 2020 – 72 doses. What is the difference – Sick kids. As the government allows the lawsuits through, albeit in almost complete darkness, we estimate only knowing 1-10% of the harm that is being done. The problem herein is that we do not have the information necessary to pass such an obtrusive and unnecessary legislation. Start asking for answers and when you hit all the closed doors associated with vaccinations, you know you are being lied to.

    1. Hi Lori, in the interest of fostering deeper discussion, can you provide a citation for the 1-10% figure you provided?

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