As Massachusetts lawmakers debate a bill that would ban such dispensation, the number of Marblehead students requesting and receiving religious exemptions from vaccines has increased, matching a statewide trend.
“According to DPH [Department of Public Health] data, the total exemption rate for students is six times higher than it was 35 years ago,” state Rep. Jenny Armini of Marblehead told the Current. “And dozens of Massachusetts schools have vaccination exemption rates above 5%. That places them in danger of not having herd immunity for measles (which is 95%). Maintaining that immunity is critical — for the vaccinated and the unvaccinated.”
Students in kindergarten through 12th grade are required to stay current with the following vaccines: DTaP/Tdap, which protects against diphtheria, tetanus, and whooping cough; polio, MMR, which protects against measles mumps and rubella; varicella (chicken pox) and hepatitis B, according to the DPH.
Here’s the data on religious exemptions in Marblehead, from acting Superintendent Michelle Cresta.
That means that last year, 0.7% of Marbehead students had vaccine exemptions.
This year’s data is not yet available, Cresta said.
The bill to eliminate religious exemptions was debated by the Joint Committee on Public Health in late July but has not been reported out to the full Legislature.
“I do have concerns about the increased usage of the religious exemption to avoid vaccinations, and I will be watching this bill closely as it continues through the legislative process,” said Sen. Brendan Crighton, who also represents Marblehead.
He continued, “As a father to two young children, I want to ensure that all our students and teachers can thrive in safe and healthy classrooms. Students, and their families, deserve the peace of mind that comes from following the best public health practices. We want to encourage the highest possible vaccination rates within these critical shared spaces.”
Board of Health member Tom McMahon is against getting rid of the religious exemption.
Asked why, he responded, “Religious freedom, for one. People need to make decisions appropriate for them. We live in a diverse society, and people have different views that need to be respected. When it comes to anything medical, I’d say talk to your trusted doctor and do what’s best for you.”
Board of Health Vice Chair Joanne Miller is concerned by the trend to not vaccinate.
“Parents want to do what is best for their children and understand the importance of car seats, baby gates and other ways we keep our children safe,” she said. “One of the best ways to protect our children is to make sure they get all of their vaccinations.”
Miller added, “Vaccines are one of the greatest medical advances in history. Some diseases that at one time killed thousands of children have been eliminated completely. I hope that parents that have questions or concerns speak with their pediatricians.”