Bill to Eliminate Religious & Philosophical Exemptions for Vaccines Causes Stir

| May 18, 2019

HARRISBURG, Pa. (EYT) – A Pennsylvania state senator has introduced a bill that would eliminate exemptions for vaccines based on religious and philosophical reasons.

State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware) recently introduced legislation designed to increase the number of Pennsylvania school children who are immunized against diseases that spread easily among groups, interrupt school life, and threaten public health.

Children in Pennsylvania are currently required by law to receive certain vaccinations before they may attend school. However, exemptions from that requirement exist for anyone who has a pre-existing health problem that conflicts with the immunization requirements, a religious objection to vaccines, or a philosophical exemption to vaccines, which is characterized in law as “a strong moral or ethical conviction similar to a religious belief.”

Leach’s bill would eliminate the religious exemption and the “philosophical” exemption. reached out to area school nurses to determine how many families would be affected by this possible change in the law.

According to Jane Curwin of Franklin Area High School, families claiming an exemption based on religious or philosophical beliefs are fairly uncommon.

“We have maybe one or two students, but hardly any in my building,” Curwin noted. “It’s a very small portion. Most are cooperative and have their immunizations.”

Holly Irwin, a nurse for AC Valley School District, said their district has a few students who claim exemption, but not many.

“I know some parents truly feel that they have the ethical or the moral that they feel don’t want to vaccinate, but I do feel that sometimes it’s the easy way out,” Irwin noted.

“Parents get busy, and when the nurse sends home forms saying their children are not up to date and need shots, it seems like in some situations kids are vaccinated until a new one comes out, and instead, they suddenly want to fill out paperwork for moral objection. That’s where I’ve found a problem. We have very, very few that have not had any vaccinations at all.”

In neighboring Clarion County, one outlying district seems to be Clarion Area.

According to Clarion Area School District’s RN, Tedra Craig, the number of students claiming religious or philosophical exemptions in her district has risen.

“There are actually quite a few, more than anyone would probably ever imagine,” Craig said.

She also noted that among the families who claim these exemptions, a change in law eliminating the exemption will probably cause quite a stir.

“I feel like they will object to it, that their beliefs are strong and they will stand up for how they feel about immunizations being mandatory.”

Senator Leach originally circulated his proposal to Senate colleagues in the form of a memo earlier this year; he also penned an Op-Ed on the subject.

Leach introduced the policy’s language as Senate Bill 653 earlier this month. Next, the president pro tempore will assign the bill to a Senate committee for consideration, at which time the proposal will be numbered and available online.

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