Last Thursday a bill was filed that aimed to strengthen vaccination in North Carolina. Senate Bill 346--sponsored by Jeff Tarte R-Mecklenburg, Tamara Barringer, and Terry Van Duyn--would require children to get the following vaccinations: Diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, influenza type B, hepatitis B, and varicella. The only vaccine suggested by the CDC that wouldn’t be required is the HPV vaccine. The current law says that parents and guardians could exempt children from vaccinations if they provide the school with credible proof of religious belief that is at odds with vaccination. Adults can also exempt themselves from vaccinations using a similar religious arguments. Senate Bill 347 would not allow religious exemption; it would only allow medical exemptions signed by doctors. Van Duyn says that Buncombe County has the most religious exemptions in all of North Carolina, with about 4.5% of children entering schools unvaccinated. In these counties, the religious exemption clause is being manipulated and misused. Vaccinations have become so low that hospitals and clinics are beginning to see diseases, such as whooping cough,that were once thought to be eradicated popping back up. Although the opposition is citing reasons of individual choice and violations of the First Amendment, it is clear that lapses in vaccination for some individuals can threaten the public health for all. Furthermore the large number of religious exemptions are directly interfering with preserving herd immunity, a key principle of vaccination.
It’s clear that passing this bill will be an uphill battle, but West Virginia and Mississippi has repealed religious exemptions to vaccinations within the past few years. So it is possible. In the face of the measles outbreak in California, it seems likely that this bill will gain majority support.
- Nalani Wakinekona