Conaway Bill Clarifying Exemptions from Mandatory Immunization for Students Clears Assembly Panel

Bill Makes Clear When Limited Exemptions Can be Granted

(TRENTON) – Legislation Assemblyman Herb Conaway M.D. sponsored to promote public health by tightening state policies on exemptions from student immunizations was advanced Monday by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee.

The bill (A-3818) stipulates that state laws or regulations that require the immunization of students at an elementary or secondary school or an institution of higher education can provide for exemptions from mandatory immunization only upon one of the following:

· A written statement submitted to the school, as applicable, by a licensed physician indicating that the vaccine should not be given for a specific period of time based upon valid medical reasons as determined by the Commissioner of Health and Senior Services, or;
· Documentation submitted to the school, as applicable, by the student, or the student’s parent or guardian if the student is a minor, explaining how the administration of the vaccine conflicts with their bona fide religious tenets or practices.

“Medical science has shown vaccinations to be an extremely effective approach to securing public health,” said Conaway (D-Burlington), a practicing physician. “We’ve heard too many people playing politics with vaccinations, despite vaccinations having long been proven as a safe and effective means of controlling and eliminating deadly illnesses plaguing human kind. In the end, the only thing government must balance is what’s best for the overall public health, and that means unambiguously supporting vaccinations and making clear that any exemptions must be limited.”

The bill sets forth the specific elements that are required to document that the administration of a vaccine conflicts with the bon fide religious tenets or practices of a student, or a student’s parent or guardian. These include the following:

· a written statement, to be notarized, signed, and sworn by the person submitting the statement, and which includes:
· an explanation of the nature of the person’s religious tenet or practice that is implicated by the vaccination and how administration of the vaccine would violate, contradict, or otherwise be inconsistent with that tenet or practice;
· information that indicates that the religious tenet or practice is consistently held by the person, which may include, but need not be limited to, expression of the person’s intent to decline any vaccination;
· a statement that the religious tenet or practice is not solely an expression of that person’s political, sociological, philosophical, or moral views, or concerns related to the safety or efficacy of the vaccination; and
· a statement that the person understands the risks and benefits of vaccination to the student and the public health and acknowledges that the student may be excluded from attendance at the student’s school, as applicable, in the event of the occurrence of a communicable disease or condition or threat, which in the opinion of the Commissioner of Health requires such exclusion from attendance of unvaccinated students; and
· a signed statement from a physician licensed to practice in this State, or another individual as designated by the Commissioner of Health, that the person has received individual counseling from the physician, or other individuals as appropriate, concerning the risks and benefits of vaccination to the student and the public health.

The bill prohibits schools from exempting a student from a mandatory immunization unless the student, or the student’s parent or guardian if the student is a minor, complies with all of the applicable requirements set forth in the bill.

The bill provides the Commissioner of Health with expedited rulemaking authority in order to provide such guidance to school and public health authorities as they will need to implement its provisions on a timely basis.

“This will provide for a clear and consistent approach to vaccinations for students at any educational level in the state, and will do so in a way that protects the children of New Jersey and those with whom they come in contact against serious communicable diseases,” Conway (D-Burlington) said. “Meanwhile, we’d allow appropriate exceptions based only upon valid medical reasons and genuine religious objections. This is the right and moral thing to do, and in the end, it’s just also common sense based on science.”