General Assembly delays taking action on religious exemptions and vaccines

RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — Virginia lawmakers have decided not to move forward with a plan to get rid of religious exemptions for vaccines in the state. Instead, the issue will be studied further in the state’s Joint Commission on Healthcare.

A similar bill was passed in California last year. Only three states have passed similar legislation.

“There was a tremendous harm done by those vaccines to my son,” said parent Lisa Sykes.

Sykes says vaccines with high levels of mercury are to blame for her son Wesley being diagnosed with autism when he was two-and-a-half years old. Sykes says she’s not anti-vaccines, but based on her experience, stayed away from some vaccines when it came to Wesley’s younger brother, Joshua. She says she would hate for those decisions to be taken out of parents’ hands.

“It’s a mistake for the government to start telling parents and physicians what to do in regard to a child,” said Sykes.

Currently, Virginia lawmakers are discussing whether to get rid of the state’s religious exemption for vaccines, something Sykes says would be a mistake.

“Every ingredient in them needs to be assessed and safety trials need to be very rigorous so we know what exactly are the risks,” said Sykes.

“It’s pretty hard to find a religion that opposes vaccines across the board,” said pediatrician Dr. Gayle Schrier Smith.

Smith says studies have looked at places where there are a high number of unvaccinated children and the results speak for themselves.

“That’s directly tied with an increase in communicable disease,” Smith said. “Outbreaks of measles, for example, in California, or pertussis in California and New York.”

Smith says Virginia is one of the best states in the country at preventing outbreaks and getting rid of the exemption would only strengthen that position.

“They are one of the single most important ways we prevent the spread of disease,” said Smith.

While the bill will not be voted on this year, the bill’s sponsor says 37 states introduced similar bills that didn’t pass last year, so this is a conversation that will continue here and across the country.

For more Virginia General Assembly coverage, visit the In the Rotunda section.

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