Some Local Parents Still Opt Out of Vaccination as Lawmakers Consider Another Bill to Increase Vaccination Rate

| August 26, 2019

VENANGO CO., Pa. (EYT) – Immunization is a hot topic of conversation in Harrisburg again as two Pennsylvania lawmakers recently introduced legislation aimed at increasing the vaccination rate of children in the state.

Children in Pennsylvania are currently required by law to receive certain vaccinations before they may attend school. Nevertheless, 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.”

Dan Frankel (D-Squirrel Hill), and Bridget Kosierowksi (D-Lackawanna) introduced a bill this week that would require parents who seek nonmedical exemptions (religious or philosophical) for their children to meet with a doctor annually to discuss the risks associated with not being vaccinated. It also would require Pennsylvania schools to publicly disclose online the number of vaccinated and unvaccinated students in their district.

Locally, Pennsylvania Department of Health statistics from the 2016-2017 school year showed that in Venango County, eight students were granted religious exemptions and 16 were granted philosophical exemptions, for a total of 24 unvaccinated students in the county.

In neighboring counties, the tallies varied widely. In Clarion County, seven students were granted religious exemptions, and another 29 were granted philosophical exemptions, while in Butler County 70 students were granted religious exemptions, and 87 were granted philosophical exemptions.

Crawford County had 12 students granted religious exemptions and 98 granted philosophical exemptions and Mercer County had 26 students granted religious exemptions and 71 granted philosophical exemptions.

Forest County, with its smaller population, only had one student granted a philosophical exemption.

Whatever reason people may choose not to vaccinate, those who support vaccination say the evidence is clear.

“As we have seen several times in the last few years, communities across the United States have found themselves confronting outbreaks of diseases that we eradicated decades ago,” Rep. Frankel said.

“Today, we are introducing legislation to promote vaccination education so that parents can make informed decisions about immunizations for their children. The choice to opt out of vaccination has profound implications not just for the child, but for the community as well, and parents need to be aware of the risks they are taking.”

The timing of the introduction of the bill does not seem to be coincidental. August is National Immunization Awareness Month, an annual observance that highlights the importance of vaccination across the nation.

“National Immunization Awareness Month is an opportunity to highlight the importance of vaccines as a safe and effective way to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities from preventable health threats,” Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said in a recent statement.

Azar also echoed many of the same sentiments as Frankel.

“Unfortunately, while the safety and effectiveness of vaccines has only grown over time, we have recently seen an alarming rise in measles cases, a vaccine-preventable disease that was declared eliminated in the United States back in 2000. Although many measles cases we have seen are linked to international travel, just last week, the total number of confirmed cases surpassed 1,160 in 30 states across the country.”

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