Senator Kasser Votes to End Non-Medical Vaccine Exemptions

Following many hours of debate and discussion, state Senator Alex Kasser (D-Greenwich) joined colleagues on Tuesday to vote to end the non-medical exemption in Connecticut’s decades-old law regarding mandatory vaccines for school-age children.

“I joined my colleagues this evening in voting to remove the non-medical exemption for vaccines in Connecticut schools, a crucial public policy step that will increase childhood vaccination rates and stop the spread of measles, hepatitis, polio, and other infections,” Senator Kasser said in a release.

“As one constituent told me, Connecticut’s healthcare regulations need to be centered on the well-being and safety of those most at risk,” she added. “A crucial component of our social contract is protecting each other. In the case of vaccines, that means eliminating any non-medical exemptions.”

“Vaccination rates in schools across Connecticut have dropped dramatically in the past decade. Today, dozens of classrooms have fallen below the 95 percent herd immunity rate necessary to prevent the spread of measles, mumps, Hepatitis A & B, and a litany of other infections. That drop-off puts us at real risk of an outbreak, similar to the measles outbreak last year in New York state that led to hundreds of cases and dozens of hospitalizations,” Sen. Kasser continued. “The non-medical exemption — sometimes called the religious exemption– is an outdated loophole that allowed parents to send unvaccinated children to school without a doctor’s approval. Closing this loophole narrows the vaccine exemption rates to those who need it the most: students with genuine medical complications such as autoimmune conditions, immunosuppressant chemotherapy treatment, HIV infection, and more.”

The bipartisan 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 of the ‘religious exemption’ to avoid vaccinations has grown in recent years, even though all major religions support vaccines, noting that the societal benefits of their use outweigh any potential drawbacks. But increasing use in Connecticut of this non-medical exemption has led to preventable outbreaks of dangerous infectious diseases, including measles, which is covered under 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, with the 2019-20 school year seeing that number rise of 8,328. Other states including New York and California have eliminated this same exemption in order to protect people who, for medical reasons, cannot take regular vaccinations.

Doctors from Yale and Columbia Universities endorsed removing non-medical exemptions, noting they are often tied to increases in unvaccinated residents in 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. The legislation will “grandfather in” individuals presently enrolled in grades K-12 or higher who received exemptions prior to the bill’s passage.

Children enrolled in pre-kindergarten 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 requires the Dept 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 the DPH to evaluate data on immunization exemptions.