Proposal to Mandate Flu Vaccination for Students in New Jersey Draws Backlash From Parents, Lawmakers

September 29, 2020 Updated: September 29, 2020

Residents rallied near the New Jersey State House in Trenton on Sept. 24 carrying signs and chanting slogans to protest the proposed New Jersey legislation mandating flu vaccinations for students.

New Jersey Assemblyman Herb Conaway Jr. (D-Burlington) and New Jersey Sen. Joseph Vitale (D-Middlesex) in August introduced a bill in the New Jersey State Assembly and New Jersey Senate that mandates annual flu vaccinations for students of public and private schools, preschools, and colleges as a condition of enrollment.

The bill permits exemptions from mandatory flu immunization due to medical conditions or on religious grounds. However “a general philosophical or moral objection to the vaccination” does not qualify as “an exemption on religious grounds,” the bill says.

The mandated flu vaccination of students will allow officials “to more promptly distinguish whether a COVID-19 or influenza outbreak is occurring at the institution,” as the symptoms of both diseases are similar and currently no vaccine exists for COVID-19, the bill says.

According to the bill, mandating flu shots will reduce the number of hospitalizations and emergency room visits related to the flu thus freeing up hospital capacity and emergency resources for patients of COVID-19 or other more serious diseases.

Epoch Times Photo
Hundreds of people of mixed political views, religions, and cultures protest a mandate from the Massachusetts Governor requiring all children, age K-12, to receive an influenza (flu) vaccine/shot to attend school for the 2020/2021 year outside the Massachusetts State House in Boston on Aug. 30, 2020. (Joseph Prezioso /AFP via Getty Images)

In response to the bill proposed by Conaway, Assemblyman Gerry Scharfenberger (R-Monmouth) and Senator Joe Pennacchio (R-Morris) on Sept. 17 introduced a bill that prohibits government agencies and schools from mandating flu vaccinations for anyone who is 18 years old or younger.

“I believe that medical decisions—be it a diagnosis, treatment, or prevention—should be up to the individual, not the government,” Scharfenberger told The Epoch Times in an interview. The bill is “ a pro-personal choice bill,” he said.

The bill introduced by Scharfenberger does not oppose flu vaccinations, it only prevents the government from making parental decisions regarding children’s flu immunization.

Scharfenberger said that he is not “anti-vaccine,” he is only against mandatory vaccination, adding that he’s had all his children vaccinated and that he might get a flu shot as well.

Mandatory vaccination should not be imposed on people who “may have a religious exemption, they may have a medical exemption, they may have a personal choice exemption not to get vaccinated,” Scharfenberger said,  “So my bill allows the individual to make this decision.”

Scharfenberger said that if the government is allowed to mandate vaccinations for seasonal flu, then nothing will stop it from mandating other vaccines. “It’s a slippery slope,” he said, adding that his bill is intended  “to stop it in its tracks.”

Government bureaucrats should not mandate medical decisions for people, Scharfenberger said, it should be left to the individual. “This is very personal freedom.”

A woman receives a flu shot
A woman receives a flu shot in San Francisco, Calif., on Jan. 22, 2018. (Justin Sullivan/Getty Images)

“If an individual feels that a vaccine would help prevent getting the flu, they should get it themselves,” he added.

Scharfenberger said that if his bill gets passed and signed into law it will supersede the bill mandating flu vaccinations.

Senator Michael Testa Jr. (R-Cape May, Cumberland, Atlantic) spoke at the rally praising its participants for organizing a peaceful protest to make their voices heard. He would not have been aware of this issue if people from his district had not contacted him while he was still running for office, Testa said.

Assemblyman Jamel Holley (D-Union) who sponsored the bill prohibiting mandatory flu shots together with Scharfenberger, also praised rally participants for raising their concerns with mandatory vaccinations.

Holley told the rallygoers that they gave him “the wherewithal to continue to fight” in the State House for the cause. He encouraged them to continue their fight by educating and informing other lawmakers.

“You all have a responsibility. Just like how you educated me, you have to educate others and inform them,” Holley said. “When there is a risk, there must be a choice,” Holley concluded.

The N.J. Department of Health did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

Why Vaccine Mandate Raises Concerns

The rally was supported by Children’s Health Defense, an organization whose mission is to end chronic disease epidemics in children “by working aggressively to eliminate harmful exposures, hold those responsible accountable, and establish safeguards so this never happens again.”

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., Founder, Chairman of the Board, and Chief Legal Counsel for Children’s Health Defense, was interviewed by The Epoch Times. Kennedy is an author of many books including New York Times’ bestseller “Crimes Against Nature.”

Epoch Times Photo
Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. attends Keep it Clean to benefit Waterkeeper Alliance on March 1, 2018 in Los Angeles, California. (John Sciulli/Getty Images for Waterkeeper Alliance)

Kennedy said that chronic diseases prevalent in children include neurological disorders such as speech delay, narcolepsy, autism; autoimmune diseases like juvenile diabetes, rheumatoid arthritis, lupus, Graves’ disease, and Crohn’s disease; and allergies, asthma, anaphylaxis, and eczema.

“Those diseases all became epidemic since 1989” when the vaccine schedule was changed, he said. “Before 1989 the level of chronic disease in children was 12 percent. Today it is 54 percent.”

Several of those diseases are linked to vaccines, Kennedy said, adding that they “are listed as side effects on the manufacturer’s inserts on those 72 vaccines that are now mandated to our children.”

To prevent this situation, Children’s Health Defense tries “to force the government and the pharmaceutical industry to properly test vaccines,” Kennedy said. “Most medications, before they get approved, have to go through double-blind placebo testing, but vaccines are exempt.”

The vaccine approval program was originally launched by the former Public Health Service, a military agency, as a national security defense against biological attacks on the United States, Kennedy said. To counter potential attacks with anthrax or some other biological agent by an adversary, the military created a program to “quickly formulate a vaccine, and then deploy it to 200 million American civilians” as expediently as possible and without any regulatory impediments.

As a result, vaccines do not undergo the safety tests that are required in the medicine approval process, which usually takes five years, Kennedy said.

In 1986, the Childhood Vaccine Injury Act was passed, creating special legal immunities for vaccine makers to make it impossible for them to be subject to class action lawsuits. When vaccine-related injuries happen, victims must file a petition through a National Vaccine Injury Compensation Program that is reviewed by the U.S. Department of Justice.

This no-fault compensation program has paid out $4.4 billion to people injured by various vaccines, according to a Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA) report. The program exists in order to “ensure an adequate supply of vaccines” and stabilize their costs, according to the HRSA.

Kennedy said a side-effect of the regulatory regime is that it has led to vaccines not getting rigorous safety tests. He blames regulatory capture—the influence or control of regulators by the party they are supposed to regulate—for the problem.

Despite concerns raised in many congressional studies, these agencies get a significant portion of their funding from pharmaceutical companies. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is the single largest buyer and seller of vaccines in the world.

“They are not doing their job to protect the public,” he said. “It’s a problem of the integrity of our democracy.”

The scale of complications suffered due to vaccination cannot be easily estimated. The CDC and Food and Drug Administration (FDA) jointly established a system for collecting and analyzing data about adverse effects from vaccination called the Vaccine Adverse Event Reporting System (VAERS), but reporting is voluntary.

Only about 1 percent of vaccine injuries are reported in, according to a Health Department study conducted in 2010. The same study estimated that 2.6 percent of vaccinated individuals, or one in 40, suffered adverse reactions. That agrees with the clinical trial data from the vaccine companies, Kennedy said.

Flu Vaccine Benefits

The CDC recommends receiving the flu vaccine this fall and winter to reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization, and death, according to its website. The flu vaccination will also free up healthcare resources for patients with COVID-19, the website says.

Getting a flu shot reduces the risk of visiting a doctor due to flu by 40 to 60 percent if the flu vaccine viruses are similar to the flu viruses that are circulating, according to the CDC.

CDC headquarters
A general view of the CDC headquarters in Atlanta, Georgia, on Sept. 30, 2014. (Tami Chappell/Reuters)

The CDC advises vaccinating children against the flu in order to reduce the risk of death or serious complications requiring intensive care unit admission due to flu. Individuals who get sick despite being vaccinated will recover more quickly, according to the CDC.

During the 2018-2019 flu season, approximately 49 percent of the U.S. population chose to get a flu vaccine and the CDC estimated that the vaccination averted 4.4 million flu illnesses, 58,000 flu hospitalizations, and 3,500 flu deaths in the country.

The CDC also estimated that during the same season, 35.5 million people got sick with the flu, 490,600 were hospitalized, and 34,200 people died. More than 46,000 of those under the age of 18 were hospitalized with the flu, according to the CDC.