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Bill to Eliminate Religious & Philosophical Exemptions for Vaccines Causes Stir

Saturday, May 18, 2019 @ 10:05 AM

Posted by Aly Delp

HARRISBURG, Pa. (EYT) – A Pennsylvania state senator has introduced a bill that would eliminate exemptions for vaccines based on religious and philosophical reasons.

State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware) recently introduced legislation designed to increase the number of Pennsylvania school children who are immunized against diseases that spread easily among groups, interrupt school life, and threaten public health.

Children in Pennsylvania are currently required by law to receive certain vaccinations before they may attend school. Nevertheless, exemptions from that requirement exist for anyone who has a pre-existing health problem that conflicts with the immunization requirements; a religious objection to vaccines; or a philosophical exemption to vaccines which is characterized in law as “a strong moral or ethical conviction similar to a religious belief.”

Leach’s bill would eliminate the religious exemption and the “philosophical” exemption. reached out to school nurses in our area to determine how many families would be affected by this proposed change in the law.

Greta Edmonds, a school nurse for Clarion-Limestone School District, noted they only have “a handful” of students who would be affected by the change.

“We have not really had a conversation recently now that we are seeing some of these diseases reemerge. That may change some parents’ minds,” she noted.

“I always tell people they should do some research and get really familiar with what they’re saying no to. In light of the recent outbreaks, I don’t really know how the parents are feeling about that these days.”

According to Michele Higgins, of North Clarion Area School District, very few people claim exemption from the vaccine laws in their district, as well.

“We’re quite a small district with about 600 in the student population, and I’d say it’s probably less than one percent, maybe six students or so, and that’s including medical exemptions,” she said.

“We get very few ethical or religious exemptions.”

Another area school nurse, who preferred not to be named, noted that in her district they probably average one or two students claiming exemption per grade level. She explained that exemptions for philosophical reasons remains uncommon.

The one outlying district seems to be Clarion Area.

According to Clarion Area School District’s RN, Tedra Craig, the number of students claiming religious or philosophical exemptions in her district has risen.

“There are actually quite a few, more than anyone would probably ever imagine,” Craig said.

She also noted that among the families who claim these exemptions, a change in law eliminating the exemption will probably cause quite a stir.

“I feel like they will object to it, that their beliefs are strong, and they will stand up for how they feel about immunizations being mandatory.”

Senator Leach originally circulated his proposal to Senate colleagues in the form of a memo earlier this year; he also penned an Op-Ed on the subject.

Leach introduced the policy’s language as Senate Bill 653 earlier this month. Next, the president pro tempore will assign the bill to a Senate committee for consideration, at which time the proposal will be numbered and available online.

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