HARRISBURG – May 12, 2019 – State Senator Daylin Leach (D-Montgomery/Delaware) today introduced legislation designed to increase the number of Pennsylvania school children who are immunized against diseases that spread easily among groups, interrupt school life and threaten public health.
Children in Pennsylvania are required by law to receive certain vaccinations before they may attend school. However, exemptions from that requirement exist for anyone who has a pre-existing health problem that conflicts with the immunization requirements, a religious objection to vaccines, or a philosophical exemption to vaccines, which is characterized in law as “a strong moral or ethical conviction similar to a religious belief.” Leach’s bill would eliminate the religious exemption and the “philosophical” exemption. Leach’s bill would not affect the medical exemption.
“As we see the current massive outbreak of the formerly eradicated measles, we are reminded yet again of the importance of doing all we can to stop easily preventable diseases from re-emerging,” Leach said.
“The law requires us all to get vaccinated to attend school because that’s the only way we can protect the health of students who are medically unable to get a vaccination,” Leach said. “Vaccines are safe and they are essential to public health.”
“As elected officials, it should be our top priority to keep our citizens safe,” Leach said. “When assessing how to best do that, we have an obligation to respect the scientific consensus and act rationally. All of the science says vaccines save many lives and stop the spread of easily-preventable but deadly diseases. It would be legislative malpractice not to do all we can to ensure that our children are protected.”
Leach circulated his proposal to Senate colleagues in the form of a memo earlier this year. He also penned this Op-Ed on the subject. Leach today introduced the policy’s language as Senate Bill 653. Next, the president pro tempore will assign the bill to a senate committee for consideration, at which time the proposal will be numbered and available online.
Since Leach first introduced a bill to eliminate our state’s philosophical exemption to vaccine requirements in 2015, Pennsylvania has improved its vaccination rate of school children. However, the data shows an increase in the rate at which students refuse vaccinations, citing the statutory moral or religious exemption. While our statewide vaccination rate is acceptable, there are specific communities across the state that have dangerously low vaccination rates. This trend threatens the health and safety of the people of our Commonwealth who cannot get vaccinated due to pre-existing medical conditions.
To protect our most vulnerable citizens, the state needs to achieve herd immunity. The concept of herd immunity is based on the fact that germs travel quickly through a community, causing people to become sick and possibly leading to an outbreak. Vaccinations combat this by reducing the ability for germs to travel, which decreases the chances of an outbreak. As a result, individuals who are unable to get vaccinations for medical reasons are protected from encountering these germs.
According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, the level of immunization in a population required to achieve herd immunity differs from disease to disease, depending on facts like the effectiveness of a given vaccine, the length of the immunity provided by a given vaccine and population dynamics.
This bill is the first of its kind ever introduced in the Pennsylvania General Assembly.
In some corners of social media, anti-vaccination advocacy groups argue that vaccines cause autism. This belief stems from a fraudulent research paper published by Andrew Wakefield, a discredited former British doctor who became an anti-vaccine activist. Wakefield falsely claimed there was a link between the MMR vaccine and autism. Wakefield was later removed from the UK’s medical register. Study after study testing Wakefield’s conclusion have failed to show any link between vaccines and autism.
Current Pennsylvania law requires immunization for diphtheria, tetanus, poliomyelitis, rubeola, rubella, mumps, hepatitis B, chickenpox, whooping cough and meningococcal disease.
Senator Daylin Leach represents the 17th Senatorial District, which includes parts of Montgomery County and Delaware County. For more information visit www.senatorleach.com/newsroom.