An Act relative to vaccinations and public health

H.3999 | bi-partisan | science-driven | endorsed by public health professionals

Despite the fact that no major world religion is antivax and despite states like New York, Maine, West Virginia, Mississippi and more have removed the religious exemption to childhood vaccines, Massachusetts is late to recognize science, jeopardizing vulnerable populations, children, and people with compromised immune systems. It's time to grow the courage to protect public health in our Commonwealth.

removing the religious exemption to childhood vaccines is  endorsed by

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The Challenge

Religious exemptions for childhood vaccines are at an all-time high in Massachusetts. The state has pockets of schools with extraordinarily high rates of unvaccinated students with some over 25%. This creates an extreme risk for students and individuals that are unable to receive vaccinations due to medical reasons out of their control, such as weak immune systems.

Mass. General Laws require the religious exemption to be a “sincere religious belief.” However, religious exemptions are at a 5x high in Massachusetts since the 1980’s, despite there being no change in the state’s religious demographics. Instead, people are taking advantage of the lax regulation of the exemption to push medical misinformation onto their children, which in turn puts other children and individuals with compromised immune systems at risk.

The Solution

An act relative to vaccination and public health, simply removes the religious vaccination exemption for children entering schools in Massachusetts. The bill does not make vaccines mandatory. If a parent voluntarily chooses not to vaccinate their children, they can do so, but must find non-traditional schooling for them. The bill is a sentence long stating:
 

“Section 15 of chapter 76 of the General Laws, as appearing in the 2016 Official Edition, is hereby amended by striking out the third paragraph.”

Several other states and countries have successfully improved vaccination rates and improved public health by removing the religious exemption to childhood vaccines. 

FAQs on H3999

Why is this so urgent?


There is an outbreak of measles cases in the United States, reaching a 25 year high. It directly correlates with continued growth of the number of vaccination exemptions. As ofJune 2019, there have been over 1,000 cases nationwide, for a disease that was once eradicated. There are also two active cases in Massachusetts this year. The state has pockets of schools with extraordinarily high rates of unvaccinated students with some over 25%. This creates an extreme risk for students and individuals that are unable to receive vaccinations due to medical reasons out of their control, such as weak immune systems. The religious exemption requires a “sincere religious belief.” However, religious exemptions are at a 5x high in Massachusetts since the 1980’s, despite there being no change in the state’s religious demographics. Instead, people are taking advantage of the lax regulation of the exemption to push medical misinformation onto their children, which in turn puts other children and individuals with compromised immune systems at risk.




What is the Constitutionality of H.3999?


The bill is 100% constitutional and for over a century the courts have ruled that removing religious exemptions for vaccines does not violate the First Amendment. Currently, Mississippi, West Virginia, California, Maine, and most recently New York have removed religious exemptions. Courts, including the Supreme Court of the United States, have continued to find that “the right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.” (quoting Prince v. Massachusetts, 321 U.S. 158, 166-67 (1944))




Which vaccines are required under DPH regulations for students to enter school?


Hib, DTap, Polio, Hepatitis B, MMR, and Varicella. All are currently required.




What if I have a genuine medical concern regarding vaccination?


You will not be affected by this bill. The bill does not affect medical exemptions in any way, and anyone who has a medical concern should speak to their doctor about a potential medical exemption. This includes allergies. This bill simply removes the religious exemption. According to state law, a doctor may give a medical exemption when they are of the opinion that “the physical condition of the child is such that his health would be endangered by such vaccination or by any of such immunizations.”




Will I or my children be mandated to take the flu shot with this bill?


No. Only the aforementioned vaccines are required, and only upon school enrollment.




Do any of the world's major religious institutions antivax?


No.





About Rep. Vargas

Andy X. Vargas was elected to the Massachusetts House of Representatives in November of 2017. He previously served on the Haverhill City Council. He is a member of the Black and Latino Caucus and sits on the following committees: Ways & Means, Education, Public Health, and Small Business.

 

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