April 28, 2021

Senator Haskell Votes to Protect Vulnerable Residents, Protect Public Health by Passing Legislation to Remove Non-Medical Vaccination Exemptions

On Tuesday evening, following hours of debate and discussion, State Senator Will Haskell (D-Westport) joined his colleagues to protect vulnerable residents and promote public health by voting in support of legislation that will eliminate non-medical exemptions for vaccines, protecting the safety of thousands of Connecticut residents and protecting residents who are medically unable to be vaccinated against dangerous diseases.

“This is about the 10-year-old-student who perhaps has an autoimmune deficiency and can’t get vaccinated. That kid faces challenges every day that none of us could possibly imagine,” said Sen. Haskell. “Surely, it’s our job to make sure that kid can go to school safely. In order for that to happen, his classmates need to be vaccinated against measles and mumps and rubella; it is their herd immunity… that keeps that student safe. If we don’t stand up for that student – and if we don’t do it today, in the midst of a global pandemic, then who will and when?”

The bipartisan piece of legislation, House Bill 6423, “An Act Concerning Immunizations,” will end the non-medical exemption for vaccinations in Connecticut. Medical exemptions will continue to be allowed for immunocompromised residents. Use and adoption of a “religious exemption” has grown in recent years, though all major religions have given support to vaccinations, stating the societal benefits of their use outweigh potential drawbacks.

Increasing use of the “religious exemption” has led to preventable outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases, including measles, which is covered in the required MMR (measles, mumps and rubella) vaccine for young children. In 2019, the United States experienced its greatest number of measles cases since 1992, with most cases considered likely to spread and cause outbreaks among unvaccinated populations.

In Connecticut, the number of children claiming non-medical exemptions has risen annually since 2017-18, with the 2019-20 school year seeing that number rise of 8,328. States including New York and California have eliminated these exemptions to protect those who cannot take regular vaccinations.

Medical professionals statewide have applauded the legislation. Doctors from Yale and Columbia Universities endorsed removing non-medical exemptions, noting they are often tied to increases in unvaccinated residents in communities. The Central Connecticut Health District’s medical representatives noted vaccinations are aimed to protect communities.

The legislation, as currently written, eliminates the non-medical exemption for individuals attending public and private schools including higher education, child care centers and family and group day care homes. The medical exemption to vaccinations remains standard. An amendment made to the legislation will “grandfather in” individuals enrolled in grades K-12 or higher who received exemptions prior to the bill’s passage. Children enrolled in prekindergarten or day care programs with prior religious exemptions generally must comply with immunization requirements by September 1, 2022 or two weeks after transferring to a different program, though the timeframe can be extended if a child’s provider writes a declaration recommending an alternative immunization schedule.

The bill also requires the Department of Public Health to create a medical exemption certificate to be used by October 1; requires the DPH to release annual immunization rates for each public and private K-12 school in the state; establishes an advisory committee on Medically Contraindicated Vaccinations to advise on issues concerning medical exemptions from immunization requirements; and requires DPH to evaluate data on immunization exemptions.