Unsplash

On Wednesday, the Connecticut General Assembly Public Health Committee ended a 24-hour-long hearing for a bill eliminating nonmedical exemptions for families who do not want to vaccinate their children.

The bill pushes for vaccine requirements for children who attend both public and private schools across the state of Connecticut. These vaccines include immunization against diseases such as measles, mumps and rubella. The bill does not explicitly mention COVID-19 vaccines. 

The daylong virtual hearing saw 1,931 signed-up speakers — few of whom were able to speak — and multiple submissions of written testimony. The overwhelming majority of the testimonies came from individuals against the bill — many of whom called for the state to allow children to forgo vaccines for religious reasons. However, the medical community, like the Connecticut State Medical Society, overwhelmingly supports the bill. In order to pass the legislation, the bill would need to be voted on by the Public Health Committee and the Connecticut General Assembly, as well as signed by the governor.

“We must respect that the science and history of vaccination is very clear and not open to debate,” the Connecticut State Medical Society said in their submitted testimony. “The benefits have been proven many times over.”

In recent years, there has been a slight increase in the number of religious exemptions for vaccines in Connecticut. According to data published by the Connecticut Department of Public Health, 95.3 percent of all students entering kindergarten in New Haven County have all the required vaccinations. This is a decrease from last year, where the data indicates 96.1 percent of all students entering kindergarten in New Haven County have all the necessary vaccinations. 1.9 percent of entering students across Connecticut cited religious exemptions as a reason to forgo vaccinations in 2019-20.

Both New Haven County and Connecticut still meet CDC guidelines recommending that 95 percent of kindergarteners receive the MMR vaccine for herd immunity. There are only 13 schools currently in the city of New Haven and 120 schools in the entire state reporting for kindergarteners that do not meet that guideline, according to the Connecticut Department of Public Health.

At the hearing, the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education expressed concern over decreasing vaccination rate in schools. 

“Having a student body count of those vaccinated fall below the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s federal guideline of 95 percent is alarming and dangerous to those individuals who are prohibited from receiving the vaccine based on their medical frailty,” the Connecticut Association of Boards of Education said in its testimony.

However, many individuals — such as Anne Manusky, the president of the Connecticut Republican Assembly — submitted testimony against the bill.

“Ultimately, it is the parents’ decision for the best interest of the child [to] seek medical attention as needed,” Manusky said in testimony. “These bills are not about health or vaccines. It’s about control.”

Another argument in opposition to the bill was made by a Connecticut fourth grader, who said she would move to a different state if the bill passed to avoid getting vaccinated. 

Multiple Democratic lawmakers have expressed strong support for eliminating religious exemptions. These include Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont and Senate President Pro Tempore Martin Looney, who represents New Haven.

“No amount of disinformation will change the scientific fact that Connecticut needs to increase vaccination numbers in order to protect the public health of our state and especially the health of immunocompromised children for whom her immunity may be a life or death matter,” Looney said in a press release last year.

The same piece of legislation was also proposed last year, when the legislative session was cut short due to COVID-19.

Alvaro Perpuly |alvaro.perpuly@yale.edu