Lawmakers to draft bill to loosen vaccination exemptions

September 21, 2018

CHARLESTON — West Virginia legislators decided Tuesday to draft a bill to make it easier for families to get medical exemptions from vaccines for their children.

As of now, parents who do not want their children to be vaccinated must fill out a form to request a medical exemption. A state immunization officer will make the determination if the exemption is granted.

In 2015, a bill passed that required exemptions to be passed by a state immunization officer. Before that, it was done at the county level.

Since the new system has been put in place, 90 percent of exemptions have been granted, said Brian Skinner, general counsel at the West Virginia Bureau for Public Health.

There have been 141 permanent medical exemptions and 139 temporary exemptions, bringing a total of 280 granted requests.

Sen. Lynne Arvon, a Raleigh County Republican who is on the Joint Committee on Children and Families, moved to create a bill looking at how to make this process easier for families. She said too much government is involved in the current system.

“I strongly believe in the doctor-and-patient relationship,” Arvon said. “These physicians, pediatricians and family practice physicians are the ones who

see the children and know their backgrounds. They should be the one making the decision on their patients.”

The motion passed unanimously by voice vote. Arvon said she will not be coming back for the next session but will take the lead in making sure the bill makes it through committee.

Three West Virginia women gave testimony about having difficulties receiving exemptions for their children.

Dr. Alvin Moss, a nephrologist in Morgantown, said the Mountain State has one of the most restrictive policies in the nation. He said 46 other states allow for a doctor to use his discretion on whether to exempt a child from receiving a vaccine.

“Yet, if you look at the overall health of West Virginia children, compared to other children, we rank 46th,” Moss said. “Our immunization policy is not getting us better health for our children.”

Dr. Kathryn Moffett, who specializes in pediatric infectious diseases at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, said this ranking is because of obesity, food security and other health problems.

Many of the doctors who testified agreed that there are children who should be exempt. Dr. Bradley Henry, an internist in Charleston, said those children need to be protected by “herd immunity,” which prevents outbreaks with sufficient community vaccination levels.

“The problem is, when you allow too many people to be exempt, then you’re putting other children at (risk of) harm — especially those who can’t be vaccinated,” Henry said.

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