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West Virginia House passes religious exemption bill for vaccines

The West Virginia Capitol building The Daily Mail via Associated Press/Photo by Tom Hindman

West Virginia House passes religious exemption bill for vaccines

The state’s House of Delegates approved House Bill 5105 on Monday, allowing virtual public school students religious exemptions from state vaccine requirements. Private and parochial schools would also be allowed to decide their own vaccination requirements for students. It’s unclear from the text if the law would provide religious exemptions to public school students attending in-person classes. West Virginia is one of the few states that does not offer a religious or philosophical exemption from immunization. HB 5105 now moves to the state Senate for review after two hours of discussion and a 57-41 approval in the House.

State Delegate Todd Kirby touts the bill as a win for religious freedom, describing immunization exemptions as a “fundamental right” in a social media post. However, some health officials have voiced concerns about the rise in vaccine exemptions. The Association of State and Territorial Health Officials reports that unvaccinated children are over 22 times more likely to contract measles than vaccinated children. Unvaccinated children are nearly six times more likely to get whooping cough. Ohio has experienced a years-long resurgence in measles cases despite the CDC declaring the disease eradicated from the U.S. over 20 years ago.

Can students with religious exemptions attend school without any vaccinations at all? The bill states that a vaccine exemption will be granted when a parent or guardian submits a letter “stating that a child cannot be vaccinated for religious reasons.” However, students must meet state vaccine standards to participate in activities under the West Virginia Secondary School Activities Commission, the governing body for most public and private high school sports.

What are the state’s vaccine requirements? West Virginia law currently requires children in state-run programs to be immunized against chickenpox, Hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, mumps, diphtheria, polio, rubella, tetanus, and whooping cough.

Any idea when the Senate will vote? The measure has yet to be introduced to the Senate. However, a vote is expected soon, with the legislature’s 60-day regular session ending on March 9.

Dig deeper: Read Emma Freire’s report in WORLD Magazine on the public debate over the COVID-19 vaccine.

Christina Grube

Christina Grube is a graduate of the World Journalism Institute.

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