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House Minority Leader Vincent J. Candelora, R-North Branford, demonstrated Monday that a politician can mix the volatile ingredients of COVID-19 and school-immunization mandates without making a big noise.
And that legislators still will recoil.
Candelora asked the legislature’s Public Health Committee to tweak the process by which the commissioner of public health can add a vaccine to the schedule of childhood immunizations required to attend school.
He was prompted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the American Academy of Pediatrics and American Academy of Family Physicians recommending the COVID-19 vaccine be added to the schedule.
Candelora knows there is no plan to follow that recommendation in Connecticut. Gov. Ned Lamont and Dr. Manisha Juthani, his commissioner of public health, are on record as opposed to making the addition.
But Candelora says the current process allows the commissioner to make the change prior to a hearing by the legislature’s Regulations Review Committee, and he wants state law changed to require a review prior to the change.
By design, Candelora did not publicize his intention to make the request at a hearing, nor did he recruit others to testify in support.
“I have deep respect for Rep. Candelora, and I also understand how he was very intentional about how he brought the issue,” said Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, a physician who co-chairs the committee.
But Anwar, who support the Lamont administration’s opposition to mandating the immunizations, said he sees no appetite for bringing Candelora’s suggestion to a floor vote.
Any legislation to change the process for changing the childhood immunization schedule almost certainly would become a vehicle for reopening the debate on the end to religious exemptions to the vaccine requirement.“Emotions are so higher there is a hesitancy to have a conversation about this,” Anwar said.
His co-chair, Rep. Cristin McCarthy Vahey, D-Fairfield, was similarly dubious about taking up the idea.
“We have a lot of on our dance card already,” said McCarthy Vahey, whose committee is weighing an ambitious proposal by the governor to control health costs. “We’d like to stay focused.”
Indeed, Candelora cited the end of the religious exemption as a reason to tighten the process for adding vaccines to the schedule of required immunizations. He called the exemptions a relief valve that is no longer available.
“If these decisions are going to be made absent alternatives, it needs to be done through a public transparent process, not through our agency,” he said. “And the way the statute is currently written, there would be no transparency in this process.”
Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, told Candelora she agreed with him. Juthani has assured her in writing there is no intention to require COVID-19 vaccinations to attend school, she said.
“But that could change as a commissioner changes. And I think it’s important that we look at this,” Somers said.
Somers said the legislature and public should have a voice before any changes.
Tucker Carlson, the Fox News personality, falsely claimed last fall when the CDC recommended COVID-19 vaccines be added to the childhood schedule that the recommendation was a federal mandate.
Bob Stefanowski, the Republican candidate for governor, immediately made the CDC recommendation an issue in his unsuccessful campaign by challenging Lamont to join him in pledging not to follow the CDC.
Lamont declined to make a campaign pledge, chiding Stefanowski for politicizing a health issue. But he said then did not seen the case for requiring it.
The list or required vaccinations is not lightly changed in Connecticut, and revisions often come years after CDC recommendations. The last addition came a decade ago, when students were required to get two doses of a Hepatitis A vaccine, Juthani said.
The CDC added that vaccine to its list of recommended childhood immunizations six years earlier.