New Jersey Bill to End Religious Exemption for Vaccines Collapses in State Senate

Religion will remain an acceptable reason for New Jersey parents to exempt their children from receiving vaccinations required to attend public schools, at least for now, after a controversial bill failed to pass in the state Senate.

The New Jersey Senate Bill 2173 collapsed on Monday after its Democratic sponsors failed a second time to gather enough votes for its passage. The defeat came after a last-minute effort on Jan. 10 to secure a much-needed Republican vote. The proposed legislation was amended to allow private schools and daycare centers to admit unvaccinated children, which ultimately generated new opposition.

The decision to keep religious belief as a valid reason for childhood vaccine exemption is considered a win for thousands of parents across the state, plenty of whom protested outside Statehouse in Trenton this Monday. According to immunization reports from the New Jersey Department of Health, more than 13,000 children ranging from pre-kindergarten to sixth grade remained unvaccinated for the 2018-2019 school year, citing religious reasons.

“Thank you, God!” protesting parents cheered from the gallery above the Senate chamber after learning that the legislation fell one vote short, reported NJ Advance Media. Opponents decried the bill as an attempt to take away their rights as parents and their freedom of religious expression.

Five states, namely California, Maine, Mississippi, New York, and West Virginia, have banned using religious exemptions against childhood vaccinations. Following what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) described last year as the greatest measles outbreak since 1994, Maine, New York, and Washington amended their vaccination laws in the hope to reduce the risk of another major outbreak.

Current immunization law in New Jersey requires babies and children to be vaccinated against more than a half-dozen diseases before they enroll in licensed child care programs and preschool. By the time they begin grade school, they need to receive nearly twice as many shots, including vaccines against measles, polio, tetanus, and whooping cough, among other infections. All college students will need a meningitis vaccine as well.

The New Jersey vote on the vaccine bill came shortly after hundreds of students in Seattle, Washington, were barred from attending classes for failing to present vaccination record required by state law. Washington House Bill 1638 (pdf), which took effect in July 2019, removed personal and philosophical exemptions to MMR vaccines for every child at every public and private school, as well as every daycare center in the state.

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