The Bulletin Board

GOP lawmakers seek to broaden exemptions for non-COVID school vaccine mandates

By: - January 4, 2022 3:48 pm
A little girl gets help walking up stairs

Under current state law, parents may seek vaccine exemptions only for medical or religious reasons. (Getty Images)

As opposition to COVID-19 vaccines continues, some Republican lawmakers are seeking to broaden exemptions for all vaccines for New Hampshire school children – including polio.

A bill set to appear before the Legislature this year would allow parents to seek exemptions for the statewide school vaccine requirements if they are a “conscientious objector.” Under current state law, parents may seek exemptions only for medical or religious reasons.

The bill, House Bill 1035, would let parents who are conscientious objectors to vaccinations write letters stating: “I {Parent’s name}, hereby submit this request for a medical, religious, or conscientious objector exemption from the mandated vaccinations required per RSA:141-C:20-a for my child, {Child’s name}.” 

That letter would allow parents to exempt their children from a host of required immunizations, including diphtheria, mumps, pertussis, polio, rubella, rubeola, and tetanus. 

The bill would also eliminate the requirement that parents show certification from a licensed physician in order to qualify their child for the medical exemption. Under the newly proposed law, parents would need to claim only the medical exemptions.

For the bill’s prime sponsor, Rep. Tim Lang, the legislation is meant to help parents who live “organic lifestyles” and already don’t support taking vaccines. Those parents have had to falsely claim they have religious objections to the vaccines in order to obtain the exemption, Lang said.

“We’re basically making liars out of people who choose this,” he said. “And I don’t want that.” 

The bill would also remove the requirement that families seeking a religious exemption find a registered notary to confirm that they had signed the request, Lang noted. 

But health care professionals and school officials have strongly objected to the proposal. Paula MacKinnon, president of the New Hampshire School Nurses’ Association, said it would undermine decades of successful vaccination efforts for long-standing diseases like polio and other covered viruses.

“They’re all serious diseases that have been eradicated in the United States due to our current vaccination requirements,” MacKinnon said at a press event Tuesday hosted by the health advocacy group New Futures. 

“There is no year-round transmission of polio virus currently in the United States,” Mackinnon continued. “There are, however, destinations in Asia and Eastern Europe where polio precautions still need to be taken into place. It only takes one traveler with polio to bring the disease back to the United States.”

Lang denied that the bill’s changes would result in higher rates of unvaccinated students in the state. “We’re talking about a very small population, right?” he said. “So it just cleans up that language for that small population to allow them to live their organic lifestyle, believe in their religious beliefs, or whatever medical exemptions are necessary.” 

The bill will be introduced before the full House this week and will then be assigned to a committee. It will receive a hearing in the coming weeks. 

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Ethan DeWitt
Ethan DeWitt

Ethan DeWitt is the New Hampshire Bulletin’s education reporter. Previously, he worked as the New Hampshire State House reporter for the Concord Monitor, covering the state, the Legislature, and the New Hampshire presidential primary. A Westmoreland native, Ethan started his career as the politics and health care reporter at the Keene Sentinel. Email: [email protected]