Changes proposed to W.Va. school vaccination law

Changes proposed to W.Va. school vaccination law
Published: Feb. 6, 2023 at 6:33 PM EST
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CHARLESTON, W.Va. (WSAZ) - West Virginia has one of the toughest laws on the books for childhood immunizations -- one of just six states that provide no non-medical exemption.

Sen. Laura Wakim Chapman, R-Ohio County, wants to change that. She recently introduced a proposal that, if passed, would provide parents the opportunity to seek a philosophical or religious exemption.

Chapman says her motivation involves providing all students with equal access to education.

“We have families moving away. We have people who are home schooling, who would have otherwise put their children in school, and it’s not really a fair policy for these children to be denied an education,” she told WSAZ NewsChannel 3.

Current law requires a series of vaccinations before a child can enter public or private school.

Chapman’s proposal, Senate Bill 535, would change that. The exemption would apply to chickenpox, hepatitis B, measles, meningitis, mumps and a host of other vaccines.

That concerns pediatricians and doctors, including Dr. Susan L. Flesher of Marshall Health.

“We’re talking the difference between life and death, life and severe illness,” she said. “Not just for the children that we’re discussing, but there are babies that are too young for certain immunizations.”

WSAZ NewsChannel 3 Investigative/Political Reporter Curtis Johnson took that point to Chapman.

“Is there that potential, for disease outbreak? Yes. Is it likely? No,” she replied. “I understand there’s this parade of horrible, ‘Oh, there will be measles outbreaks, there will be whatever outbreak,’ but again, 44 other states and the District of Columbia have non-medical exemptions and those types of issues don’t occur.”

But Flesher, a pediatrician, pointed to a measles outbreak last year in Ohio, a state with exemptions.

“During that period of time, it is just a wonderful thing to be able to say, ‘West Virginia had zero cases.’”

A few senators WSAZ spoke with, including a co-sponsor of the legislation, expressed uneasiness about aspects of the proposal.

SB 535 currently sits in the Senate Health and Human Resources Committee, where passage is not a guarantee.