(TRENTON) — Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee Chairman Herb Conaway, Jr., M.D. (D-Burlington) issued a multimedia package Monday on his legislation that would tighten the laws governing exemptions to New Jersey’s mandatory immunization requirement for New Jersey school children.
Conaway’s measure (A-1931) would update current state statutes governing immunization exemptions for students amid a growing rate of unvaccinated children nationwide and the ongoing measles outbreak currently affecting the western half of the country. Under the bill, exemptions from mandatory immunization would only be granted 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 state Department 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.
Philosophical or moral objections would no longer be sufficient grounds to opt-out and religious exemptions could be suspended by state health officials during a public health crisis.
The multimedia package consists of Conaway discussing his legislation and audio and transcript of same.
The audio file is available upon request.
A transcript of Conaway’s comments is appended below:
Assemblyman Herb Conaway, Jr., M.D. (D-Burlington), Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee Chair:
“Measles itself can, in 1 in 100 cases, cause pneumonia, which is the leading cause of death for people who have the measles; and 1 in 1,000 can cause a swelling of the brain. These are very serious conditions and we were able to achieve the eradication of measles in this country through the process of mandatory vaccination of school age children.
“Unvaccinated children create not only a risk to the individual children but are a risk to your neighbor’s children as well. And particularly when you think about those individuals among us who have particular susceptibilities: they might be suffering from HIV; they might be suffering from important allergies that don’t allow them to get the vaccine. We have been seeing an alarming increased numbers of measles cases which are the result of this very broad religious exemption; a religious exemption which is not consistent with the legislative intent.
“What the bill says is that in order to utilize a religious exemption to keep your child from being immunized against vaccine preventable diseases you must – in writing – state a bona fide religious reason why your child should not receive a vaccination.
“No one is arguing that that should not exist. We have to work around these things. But, right now, that religious exemption has been used really by people who don’t share a strong religious view about it but who just reject the idea of vaccines because, in spite of all the evidence, they believe vaccines are dangerous. And in spite of all the examples in our society where we work together to achieve an end, they have decided they’re going to go it alone and really not respect, I think, this great idea that we are all in it together and that we do have responsibility not only for ourselves, but for our neighbors as well.”