Taking a Shot At Immunization Law

Parents and guardians who have legitimate medical or religious reasons for concern about having their children immunized against disease should be treated fairly and with consideration by state officials in West Virginia. That should go without saying.

But some of those who say no to protecting their sons and daughters base their objections on superstition, vague fears of the health care system or social media myths that have been discredited for years. When they refuse to have children immunized, they increase the risk of disease spreading through the general population.

A bill introduced in the state Senate, SB 454, would give parents and guardians new routes to seek exemptions from the rule that children in schools be immunized against various diseases.

SB 454 continues the policy of providing exemptions from the immunization law based on religious conflicts or legitimate health care concerns. But it adds a worrisome section, providing that exemptions can be permitted for “either a conscientious or personal objection …”

That provides an enormous loophole for those whose objections to immunization have nothing to do with religion or medical situations.

Some may wonder what is wrong with allowing such parents or guardians to put their own children at risk. Several things:

First, of course, the children who have no say in the matter can suffer lasting harm if they contract one of the diseases in question. In rare cases, they may die.

Second, unprotected children can serve as disease transmitters. Washington, among the most liberal states in permitting exemptions from immunization rules, recently declared a state of emergency because of a measles outbreak that sickened 42 people.

If there are reasonable concerns that some children who should be exempted for medical or religious reasons are being forced into vaccinations, they should be addressed. But telling the parents and guardians all they need is a “personal objection” is irrational — and possibly dangerous. SB 454 should be shelved.

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