On February 16, the legislature’s Public Health Committee conducted a public hearing on two bills, S.B. 568 and H.B. 6423, both of which would eliminate the religious exemption to mandatory vaccinations for Connecticut schoolchildren. The hearing was capped at 24 hours, depriving nearly 1,500 members of the public who had registered for the hearing their opportunity to be heard. The vast majority of those who did testify, and who submitted written testimony, opposed the bill. The committee is expected to vote on the bill as early as today.
The proposal to repeal the religious exemption –something that has been a centerpiece of the Democrats’ legislative agenda for several years now– is one of the most controversial and highly publicized pieces of legislation this session. It is a hot topic of conversation among legislators of both parties within and without the Public Health Committee, and between legislators and their constituents across the state. There is another bill before that committee, however, that should be getting just as much attention (if not more), but for some reason has been entirely ignored: H.B. 5410, An Act Concerning The Reduction of Vaccine Hesitancy.
The stated purpose of the bill is simple: “To reduce vaccine hesitancy and increase vaccine uptake by providing minimal statutory assurances regarding vaccine safety.” Reducing vaccine hesitancy and increasing vaccine uptake is something that the Democrats on the committee, judging by their comments during the 24-hour public hearing, vigorously support. In the committee’s first meeting this session, newly-elected Rep. Jamie Foster (D-East Windsor) even went so far as to decry statements by her Republican colleagues on the committee that would suggest there are safety issues with vaccines, as such comments could erode public confidence in vaccines. H.B. 5410, by requiring that all vaccines required for school attendance meet minimal safety criteria, is exactly the kind of bill that Democrats like Rep. Foster should be boldly championing. So why the silence?
The bill would require that all vaccines mandated for school attendance meet the same minimum safety testing standards required of all drugs for approval by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). That means that no vaccine could be mandated for any child unless it had first been tested for its ability to cause a variety of health problems, including cancer and infertility. The dirty little secret is that none of the vaccines currently mandated for school attendance have been tested according to these minimum FDA standards (Committee on the Assessment of Studies of Health Outcomes Related to the Recommended Childhood Immunization Schedule; Board on Population Health and Public Health Practice; Institute of Medicine. Washington (DC): National Academies Press (US); 2013 Mar 27.) That is likely the reason Democrats want to bury this bill. Were it to pass into law, none of the vaccines currently mandated for school attendance could continue to be mandated, since none of them have crossed this minimal safety threshold.
That this bill has been all but dismissed by the Public Health Committee is a sad commentary on the lack of concern for actual public health among its members. If the Democrats really wanted to increase confidence in vaccines and reduce vaccine hesitancy, they would be bringing H.B. 5410 to a public hearing, rather than preparing to vote to pass bills out of committee that erode religious liberty while doing nothing to protect public health. The 1.4 percent of Connecticut schoolchildren who are exercising their sincerely-held religious opposition to one or more vaccines required for school attendance are not a threat to public health or safety. Ignoring the incredible lack of safety testing for the vaccines currently mandated for all Connecticut schoolchildren most certainly is, and is a dereliction of legislative duty.
Brian Festa is a Hartford attorney and Co-Founder of the CT Freedom Alliance, LLC.