Bill would tighten NJ vaccine exemptions

    Skipping kids’ vaccines for religious reasons might become more difficult for New Jersey parents.

    New Jersey’s senate health committee voted in favor of a bill that would require parents to write a letter to schools explaining in detail how vaccine requirements conflict with the “bona fide” religious beliefs and practices of the student.

    By adding stronger language, state legislators hope to curb the number of exemptions granted for religious reasons. That number has more than doubled over the past five years, and is now at 3,865. That’s still just about one percent of students in New Jersey, but pediatricians worry that the numbers will continue to rise. Meg Fisher of the New Jersey chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics says pediatricians are concerned that this could be the beginning of a new trend toward fewer immunized children: “Of course we don’t want to see that, because we’re concerned that this will lead to pockets of unimmunized children, and that will set the scene for reemergence of these vaccine-preventable diseases.”

    Fisher says some parents are using the religious exemption as an excuse, and opt out of one vaccine but not another, claiming that is is against their religion.

    Jeffrey Bienstock is a pediatrician in New Jersey.  He says many parents continue to be worried about a connection between vaccines and autism, even though many studies have shown that no such connection exists. Bienstock says conversations with parents and education on vaccine safety are key. “I think if you have a working relationship with a parent you can sometimes turn a parent’s thought around, and get that child vaccinated appropriately in a timely fashion to protect them as well as the other children around them,” said Bienstock.

    Supporters of vaccine choice say it should be the parents’ decision to have their child vaccinated or not. They say the existing law should be applauded for allowing that.  The bill goes to the full Senate for a vote next.

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