Conaway Bill to Tighten State Policies on Immunization Exemptions Released by Assembly Panel

Bill Makes Clear When Limited Exemptions Can be Granted

Legislation Assemblyman Herb Conaway M.D. sponsored to promote public health by tightening state policies on exemptions from student immunizations was released Monday by an Assembly panel.

The bill comes amid concern about decreasing vaccinations amid the ongoing measles outbreak and worries that wavering statements about mandatory vaccinations from some elected officials send the wrong public health message.

“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 vital public health success story. 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 (A-1931) 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 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

· A written statement by the student, or the student’s parent or guardian, explaining how the administration of the vaccine conflicts with their bona fide religious tenets or practices.

Under the bill, a philosophical or moral objection to vaccination would not be sufficient for an exemption on religious grounds, and an exemption on religious grounds may be suspended by the state during an emergency as determined by the health commissioner.

“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,” Conaway said. “Meanwhile, we’d allow appropriate exemptions 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 also just common sense based on science.”

The bill was released by a vote of 9-1-2 by the Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee chaired by Conaway.