New Jersey Vaccine Mandate Bill dies (S2173)

TRENTON, N.J. — It began as one of the nation’s broadest proposed bans on religious exemptions to childhood vaccines. But after weeks of sustained and boisterous protests by vaccine skeptics, as well as a last-minute effort to amend the proposed bill to win the support of key lawmakers, the effort collapsed on Monday in the New Jersey State Senate.

The parents came out in force to oppose a bill that would not allow the use of religion as a reason to not get your child vaccinated if attending public school. However, it would allow private school and day cares to accept unvaccinated children if they choose.

Melissa Koscielniak wears syringes all over her body during a protest at the state house in Trenton, N.J., Monday, Jan. 13, 2020. New Jersey lawmakers are set to vote Monday on legislation to eliminate most religious exemptions for vaccines for schoolchildren, as opponents crowd the statehouse grounds with flags and banners, including some reading “My Child, My Choice.” (AP Photo/Seth Wenig)

The bill (S2173) would have eliminated religion as a recognized reason for parents to avoid getting their children the vaccinations required to attend day care and schools in New Jersey. It would also give the state Health Department the authority to define what would qualify as a medical exemption. The private schools and day care centers that would have been exempt under the amended version of the bill would have been required to collect and share data on the number of enrolled students who had not been fully immunized.

For the third time in a month, the opponents homed in on the capitol complex and lobbed argument after argument at state lawmakers, including that their religious freedom was being violated by the measure. When it became clear that the bill would not get a vote, they cheered and applauded so loudly that it could be heard inside the Senate chamber.

According to New Jersey’s Health Department, there are about 14,000 students who had a religious exemption in 2018-2019. That’s 2.6% of the total number of enrolled students.

In New Jersey, some 94.2 percent of grade school students were vaccinated in the 2018-19 school year, according to state records. The rate meets the so-called herd immunity threshold that many infectious disease authorities say is required to protect the population at large.

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