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Senators target religious exemption for vaccines

Posted March 19, 2015

— A bill filed Thursday by three senators would repeal the state’s religious exemption for vaccines.

Senate Bill 346, sponsored by Sens. Jeff Tarte R-Mecklenburg, Tamara Barringer, R-Wake, and Terry Van Duyn, D-Buncombe, would also add influenza B and polio to the list of required vaccinations for school enrollment, as well as others recommended by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, with the exception of the HPV vaccine.

Under current state law, a parent or guardian of a child can exempt that child from school immunization requirements simply by submitting “a written statement of the bona fide religious beliefs and opposition to the immunization requirements.” Adults can also exempt themselves from required immunizations for colleges and universities.

Under the legislation, no religious exemption would be allowed, although medical exemptions would still be permitted with a doctor’s signature.

Van Duyn said Buncombe County has the state’s highest rate of religious exemptions. More than 4.5 percent of students enrolling in its schools there aren't vaccinated.

“We’re starting to see cases of diseases we thought we had eradicated,” like whooping cough, she said. “These diseases are not a thing of the past.”

Asked why the bill would repeal the religious exemption entirely, Tarte said it’s because it’s being so widely used that it’s violating “herd immunity,” the protective effect of vaccinated populations to shield people who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons.

West Virginia and Mississippi have recently repealed their religious exemptions to vaccinations, he said. In the West Virginia case, the repeal was upheld by the 4th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals. Rulings by that court are applicable in North Carolina.

“There’s never been a case that’s failed to uphold the ability to mandatorily vaccinate kids, especially when it endangers the public health,” Tarte said.

He also said that, among the world’s major religions and sects, only "Christian Scientists and the Taliban" have taken official positions opposing vaccines. He believes the religious exemption is often used to justify personal opposition instead, often based on faulty or misunderstood science.

North Carolina Christian Science spokeswoman Cynthia Barnett took issue with Tarte's remark.

"Sponsor Senator Tarte was mistaken when he said that our Church has a policy against vaccinations. There is no such policy. Our churches leave health decisions up to individuals and do not tell them what to do," Barnett said in an email to WRAL News.

The bill will likely face an uphill battle in the Senate, where the majority recently approved new religious exemptions for magistrates and county registers of deeds with regard to same-sex marriage. Sponsors of that proposal argued the state cannot restrict the free practice of religion.

Tarte, who voted against that bill, said the context for the vaccination bill is different.

“The intent is not to violate the First Amendment,” he said, “but public health is imperative. Your rights stop at the point you start infringing on everyone else’s rights.”

John Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council, said he was still reviewing the bill Thursday and wasn't prepared to comment on it.

Sarah Preston, policy director for the state chapter of the American Civil Liberties Union, said lawmakers need to balance public health with religious freedom in crafting a vaccination policy.

"Policies designed to prevent the spread of communicable diseases should be as minimally intrusive as possible in order to achieve the government’s compelling interest in protecting children from the risk of significant harm or death," Preston said in an email to WRAL News.

32 Comments

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  • Angela Debelak Mar 24, 2015
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    To the autism question: There are online GROUPS in each state and nationwide of parents of autistic children with SIMILAR experiences that their child was fine and normal, had a vaccine (or MANY), then were NEVER the same again. It's NOT a coincidence. In 1993 the rate of autism was 1 in 555, in 2013 it was 1 in 50. It's a HUGE epidemic. The US has the HIGHEST # of mandatory vaccines yet ranks a dismal 34th in infant mortality (below CUBA!). The vaccine theory has failed our children miserably! I don't give a flying fig newton what research funded by Big Pharma says now or ever, I have seen the adverse results of vaccines with MY OWN EYES. Check out www.fourteenstudies.org. Check out United States v. Merck on Huffington Post to see the fraud and lies evident in the vaccine studies (Merck's own scientists were the whistleblowers!). Look into it and God Bless our Children!

  • Susan West Mar 23, 2015
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    People should look very carefully at this bill. It is not about religious exemption. The bills adds three more required vaccines to a child's vaccine schedule, including the yearly flu shot, starting at 6 months of age. This bill effects 1.7 million children in NC that do not receive a flu shot. This bill also will not allow a parent to stagger their child's vaccines. This bill is being reported as one that effects only 1.5% of the population, but it effects 50%. If you opt out of the flu shot for your child, they cannot attend ANY school, even a homeschool.

  • Matt Wood Mar 23, 2015
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    Because, like every other medication out there, they have to list as a "side effect" any condition that was observed during trials while a patient was on the medication regardless of whether it was coincidence or not. It's why so many medications often also list "death" as a side effect. Are you going to stop taking medicine altogether due to that???

  • Debbie Voss Mar 22, 2015
    user avatar

    This is not about herd immunity. Has anyone looked into conflicts of interest for Mr. Tarte? Vaccines carry risks and should not be levered against a parent in order for their children to receive an education. These Senators should be ashamed of themselves.

  • Jennifer Matlock Mar 22, 2015
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    Then why do vaccine package inserts include autism as a possible "side effect"?

  • Donny Darkages Mar 21, 2015
    user avatar

    So in other words, they can force you to pay for public school whose requirements conflict with your religion. Sounds like the law unconstitutionally discriminates against religion. Why don't they just mandate that your tax dollars go to Catholic schools but not jewish ones?. There should be 'no tax no vax' provinces in North Carolina. If the tax paying for schools conflicts with your religion because of its vax laws, then you can opt out of both!

  • Yolanda Clay Mar 20, 2015
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    First off, thank you. Yes, I do believe in science and research. What causes autism cannot be clearly defined, so I cannot clearly state that it is or that it isn't. If you have been following the comments, at least you can see where I'm coming from. I just hope there is a cure at some point. The best I can do right now is to continue his speech and occupational therapy, and work with him daily.

  • Sammy Macloud Mar 20, 2015
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    ah, but do you believe in SCIENCE, and RESEARCH??

    In your case I vote w/ coincidence, sorry your child is autistic but it wasn't caused by the shots

  • Yolanda Clay Mar 20, 2015
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    Yes, of course I remember the day my sons life changed. The nurse just gave him all 5 shots. Nothing was explained to me, and I was not given a choice to spread them out, nor did I know that they could or should have been at the time. That option simply was not discussed with me. You seem to have a hard time believing that could be possible, but it is true. I had entrusted her to do the right thing. As for your other question, I can't speak for the other children. I can only speak for my son. That would be the equivalent of asking how can so many can get stung by a bee with no effect, but you get stung, and end up in the hospital.

  • Matt Wood Mar 20, 2015
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    How long ago was it? 6 years? Can you really be positive you remember every single word the doctor/nurse said that day regarding the recommended timing of vaccine shots? It's not new.

    In regards to the "rising" number of autism cases, as I already said, things like younger ages at diagnosis, differential migration, changes in diagnostic criteria and inclusion of milder cases as part of the "autism spectrum" are all more likely to explain why more cases are diagnosed now than they previously were, which is way more plausible than blaming the vaccines. How do you explain all the kids who DON'T get autism after having the very same vaccines?

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