RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC) — On Monday, dozens of parents came to the state Capitol to oppose a bill that would give a federal agency, rather than the General Assembly, the authority to decide what vaccines Virginia students have to get to go to school.
Currently, students are required to get nine vaccinations. HB1090 would add four more, aligning the state schedule with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommendations. Those include vaccines for hepatitis A, meningitis, rotavirus, and HPV for boys.
“We want to be able to decide what happens to our bodies and to our children’s bodies,” said Audrey Guretse, a mother of four from Roanoke. “We don’t think they should be able to take away parental rights and give something that belongs in the hands of the people of Virginia to a federal agency that’s unelected and unaccountable.”
If the bill becomes law, parents would still be able to opt out using a religious or medical exemption. Guretse said she decided not to vaccinate her children because members of her family have had adverse reactions in the past.
“The medical exemptions are almost impossible,” Guretse said. “A family history like ours would not matter to them.”
Del. Patrick Hope, a Democrat from Arlington County, introduced the bill. He said the state’s schedule hasn’t been updated since 2008, despite efforts to add recommended vaccines through the legislative process.
“They [the CDC] are experts in infectious diseases. I’ll tell you whose not an expert is the General Assembly,” said Del. Hope. “We don’t know which vaccines should be added and right now it’s a political food fight.”
“These are life-saving vaccines that so many kids don’t have access to because of the current law,” he continued.
Dr. Harry Gewanter, a Richmond-based pediatrician, said letting the CDC call the shots will keep Virginia’s medical standards up-to-date. He said that’s critical to help protect vulnerable populations from preventable diseases.
“I’ve watched kids die. I’ve watched them lose arms and legs. I’ve watched them go deaf from meningitis and other diseases,” Gewanter said. “There’s downsides to everything but the benefits far, far outweigh the risks, both for the individual and society as a whole.”
Chesterfield parent Kathleen Medaries is also concerned about the future implications of the bill if it becomes law.
“The problem with this bill is it not just increases immediate mandates but it increases the opportunity to add all 260 vaccines currently in the CDC’s pipeline without question and debate in the state of Virginia,” Medaries said.
Del. Hope said the General Assembly would retain the ability to vote to opt out of vaccines on the CDC’s list.
The Senate passed by the bill for the day on Monday. Lawmakers have until the end of this week to pass the bill as amended in both chambers.