Our Children Have the Right to Attend School Without Fear

In my twenty-five year role as the Executive Director of a vaccine advocacy organization, I have met untold numbers of heartbroken families who have lost their babies and children to diseases that could have been prevented through vaccinations.  Thankfully, the legislators of Connecticut clearly recognize that vaccine preventable diseases can have a devastating impact on families, as well as the overall health of our communities, which is why they have raised legislation to keep our children safe in schools.  S.B. 568 & H.B. 6423 were the topic of a recent Public Health Committee’s hearing, where testimony was offered during a 24 hour zoom marathon. 

Because of the overwhelming number of people who were signed up to testify, I was not able to testify live.  I did however submit written testimony in support of the bills which will eliminate all non-medical vaccine exemptions for school entry.  

However, if I had been offered a voice, I would resoundingly praise the committee for their willingness to take on this critical legislation. I would implore them to follow the advice of the scientific and medical experts who testified about the need for the removal of non-medical vaccine exemptions. I would ask them to remember that their constituents expect elected officials to keep our children safe from preventable diseases 

Despite the loud voices of a vocal minority who oppose this legislation, the majority of Connecticut parents agree that our babies and children should be vaccinated to gain entrance to schools, camps and daycares.

How do I know this to be true? Last February, I witnessed the hearing on this topic (at which time many non-Connecticut residents also got to testify while Connecticut residents like me were denied a time slot). After the hearing, Vaccinate Your Family sought to determine how Connecticut residents felt about the legislation to remove non-medical school vaccine exemptions and whether legislators who opposed the bill were being responsive to the wishes of their constituents. We hired a reputable polling firm to conduct an online poll of Connecticut residents that found that nearly nine out of ten parents in our state believe children should be required to receive vaccines for school entry, with nearly 75% in strong agreement.  Additionally, 87% of adults statewide and across party lines agree that children should be required to receive recommended vaccines against diseases in order to be enrolled in schools and daycares.  65% of adults support proposed legislation in the Connecticut General Assembly that would ONLY allow parents to opt their children out of daycare and school vaccine requirements for medical reasons.

Despite these encouraging numbers, Connecticut families continue to be targeted by a concerted campaign to spread doubt about the life-saving necessity for vaccines and, as a result, many schools are at risk of outbreaks. Once we get back to full time classroom attendance it will be even more critical that all who can be vaccinated are, in order to stop the spread of additional disease such as measles, which can easily spread if a community/school falls below the herd immunity level, as we’ve seen in recent years.  Despite progress, far too many of our schools remain at risk for outbreaks.  More than 100 still have lower than acceptable vaccination rates for measles, mumps and rubella.

Two issues were raised by those who testified in opposition to school vaccines here in CT, religious freedoms and civil liberties.  The first claim, that vaccination is in opposition to religious teachings, is baseless as all major organized religions support vaccination including Jewish, Muslim, Christian, Catholic and other faiths.  Those who claim they are following “their own religious beliefs” are misguided, as the basic tenant of all religions is caring for our fellow man. Community immunity does not work if individuals increasingly decline to be vaccinated. The second claim that the removal of exemptions threatens the civil rights of Connecticut’s residents is also invalid. Much like other rules and laws that keep us safe, adhering to public health protocols is part of the social contract.  In order to attend organized schooling one must follow rules to protect the greater good.  

Our children, including both healthy and medically compromised children, have the right to attend our schools without fear that those around them are leaving them at risk.  This is about supporting good public health policy and protecting our children.  I urge the Connecticut General Assembly to pass S.B. 568 & H.B. 6423 and protect our children from deadly, vaccine preventable diseases in schools, daycares and camps. 

Amy Pisani, MS
Executive Director
Vaccinate Your Family

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