Parents, legislators debate ending vaccine exemption at packed State House

BOSTON (WHDH) - Parents and doctors packed the State House on Tuesday for a hearing on vaccination-related bills, including one that would end religious exemptions.

Advocates in favor of ending the exemptions said measles and other diseases are making a resurgence due to a lack of vaccinations, but other parents speaking at the hearing said the decision should be left up to them.

Inside a packed room, lawmakers considered the bills, which would encourage more vaccinations. Several doctors said vaccinations are necessary for public safety.

“We need to protect children,” said Dr. Jonathan Davis, Chief of Newborn Medicine at Tufts Medical Center. “We require parents to put bike helmets on children, we require them to put them in car seats, again, in the name of public health.”

Dr. Richard Moriarty, a pediatrics professor at UMass Medical School said, “You can’t bring a peanut butter sandwich to school, but your child can bring an infectious disease to school.”

But other doctors said vaccines need more study.

“Each vaccine is different, and I think we’re still catching up with being able to study each one as robustly as the other ones that have been studied,” said Dr. Sylvia Vogel.

State law mandates all children in public school get vaccinations for several diseases, unless they have a religious exemption. One of the bills would outlaw that religious exemption to vaccines, which one state representative said is being used as an excuse.

“We’ve reached an all-time high for religious exemptions across the Commonwealth, up 500 percent since the 1980s, despite no change in the state’s religious affiliations,” said State Rep. Andy Vargas, who is sponsoring the bill.

But other parents pushed back, with one mother saying that after her daughter received a vaccine, she developed respiratory and other chronic problems.

“I chose not to vaccinate my very healthy boys, ages 9 and 7,” said Erin McDermott. “I chose to make a different choice and I should never be ashamed for this.”

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