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Senate Bill Would Streamline Vaccine Exemption Process

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West Virginia Legislative Photography

A Senate committee removed religious exemptions from a bill allowing local physicians to exempt children from some vaccines with the approval of the state chief health officer Tuesday. The original bill would have allowed for the religious exemptions in addition to medical exceptions already contained in state law.

Three Senators removed their names from the bills as sponsors before the Senate Health Committee took up the bill Tuesday. Sen. Mike Hall said his sponsorship was a clerical error to begin with, but Senators Mark Maynard and Chris Walters removed their backing because of concerns over the religious exemption in the original bill.

“We need to keep the strict requirements. We don’t have the problems they have in other states, we don’t have the outbreaks," Walters said.

The committee, however, removed the religion provision Tuesday through a committee substitute. The revised bill instead calls on physicians and parents to prove “the immunization of a child is medically impossible or improper.” 

Currently when a parent sees a doctor for an immunization except for his or her child, that doctor's decision is sent to the local county health officer for final approval or disapproval.

Under the new bill, a physician's medical exemption must be sent to the state Bureau for Public Health where the state chief health officer oversees and approves the exceptions according to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines.

Dr. Rahul Gutpa, Commissioner of the Bureau for Public Health, is that chief health officer. He told the committee Tuesday he had concerns over some provisions in the committee substitute, including mandating certain dosage amounts and ages that are subject to change by the CDC.

As to streamlining the process at the exemption approval process at the state rather than the county level, Gutpa didn't object to the change, but told lawmakers he would need an additional physician in his office to spearhead the process.

"It is our full intent to make sure the inconsistencies that do exist in the system are eliminated, but they are eliminated in a way, in a manner that doesn’t put our children, our families at risk for disease outbreaks," he told the committee.

"We believe that there is enough authority within the existing code to be able to do that with or without this piece of legislation.”

The Senate Health Committee voted to lay over the bill for later consideration.


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