PARKERSBURG - A parents organization is asking the state Legislature to allow more exemptions for families who choose not to inoculate their children, a move supported by several local state representatives.
A group called "We the Parents" has asked for changes to a state law that requires children to be vaccinated. The group has called for senators to "give back (the) constitutional rights" of parents to make medical decisions for their children.
Local health and school officials, however, say allowing parents to opt out of vaccinations for non-medical reasons will lead to outbreaks of disease among children.
Photo by Jess Mancini
Teresa Morehead, coordinator of health services for Wood County Schools, left, and Dick Wittberg, executive director for the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department, speak Thursday about a state Senate bill to allow parents to opt their children out of required vaccinations based on religious or philosophical objections.
"If you allow exemptions, children will die," said Dick Wittberg, executive director for the Mid-Ohio Valley Health Department.
Teresa Morehead, coordinator of health services for Wood County Schools, echoed Wittberg, adding those parents voluntarily forgoing vaccinations for their children will ultimately put at risk the lives of children who cannot be vaccinated due to medical issues.
"Vaccinations are the number one prevention for diseases," she said.
A Difference of Opinion
Local health and school officials say allowing parents to opt out of vaccinations for non-medical reasons will lead to outbreaks of disease among children.
The group "We the Parents" says parents should make medical decisions for their children.
Sen. Dave Nohe, R-Wood, and Sen. Donna Boley, R-Pleasants, co-sponsored Senate Bill 50, which adds exceptions based on religious of philosophical beliefs to West Virginia Code 16-3-4.
The new language in the bill would read: "A parent or legal guardian who objects to immunizations because of religious, conscientious or philosophical beliefs, shall sign a form, duly notarized, stating that the child has not been immunized because of these beliefs. The form shall be prescribed by the West Virginia State Department of Education, presented upon entering school in lieu of proof of immunization and filed in the child's permanent file."
"There are a lot of parents who have a real problem with mandated vaccinations," Boley said Thursday.
Boley introduced a similar bill last year, but it languished in a Senate committee.
"It didn't move out of committee," she said. "Last year it went to the health committee, and this year it's going through the education committee. I'm hoping this year there will be some movement."
Nohe said all states, except Mississippi and West Virginia, allow for a religious exemption to vaccinations.
The issue will go to committee to discuss all the options to see if a compromise can be reached, Nohe said.
Nohe said the following should be considered in providing vaccinations: the child's age, the child's state of health at the time of vaccination, the number and types of vaccinations given simultaneously, and the history of reaction to vaccinations in the family.
In its press release, "We the Parents" quoted Nohe's account of his own son being adversely affected by a vaccination.
"I thought I had lost my son forever. I was then told he never could have these vaccinations the rest of his life," Nohe said in the release. "Quite a turn around from the day before when told there were never any complications from these inoculations. In most states citizens currently have the legal right to opt out of using vaccines. West Virginia should be no different."
Wittberg said he was upset to see another bill put forth to give exemptions for vaccinations.
"I'm very discouraged that it was authored by our local senators," he said. Wittberg added while he had already had conversations with Boley about last year's attempt at the bill, he planned to travel to Charleston sometime in the next two weeks and hoped to sit down with Nohe "to talk about the importance of vaccinations."