Senate Education Committee Chairwoman Peggy Lehner, R-Kettering, is pushing a bill to only allow Ohio children to skip vaccinations for medical reasons — a move that is expected to bring opposition from anti-vaccination groups as well as conservative lawmakers who place a premium on individual rights.
Lehner and state Sen. Sandra Williams, D-Cleveland, this week asked colleagues to join them in sponsoring a bill to remove all non-medical exemptions from vaccine requirements for children attending public schools or child care facilities.
Current Ohio law requires students’ immunization records be submitted within 14 days of starting school, unless parents opt out of childhood vaccinations for medical or “reasons of conscience.”
The legislation comes amid a measles outbreak in 28 states involving 1,077 people — the largest number since 1992 and since measles were declared eradicated in the U.S. in 2000, according the the Centers for Disease Control.
Measles immunization rates above 90 percent help protect the population against the disease. Ohio Department of Health data show Ohio is below that minimum threshold for protection.
“By eliminating non-medical exemptions, we can fill the need for improved immunization rates and ensure that Ohio children are safe from preventable diseases,” Lehner and Williams wrote to colleagues.
But some lawmakers want immunization laws loosened, including mandating school districts tell parents what exemptions are available under current law.
Also pending in the Ohio House is a bill to bar employers from mandating vaccinations as a condition of employment — something Ohio hospitals and other employers oppose.
Last month, the anti-vaccination movement held a rally at the Ohio Statehouse, featuring Robert F. Kennedy, Jr., as the keynote speaker. Kennedy, a well known author and environmentalist, threw his support behind the bill to keep employers from telling employees they must be vaccinated as part of their job.
The son of former U.S. Attorney General Bobby Kennedy and nephew of former President John F. Kennedy said “mild” childhood infectious diseases with low mortalities in America have been traded “for a large number of vaccine-induced chronic diseases.”
House Bill 268 would allow workers to opt out of vaccines and prevent employers from requiring those shots as a condition for employment. Similar proposals targeting flu shots have failed in committee in previous General Assembly sessions.
Public health experts and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintain that vaccines are safe and effective.
Ohio teen draws national attention to vaccination debate
Norwalk, Ohio teen Ethan Lindenberger shined a spotlight on the vacciantion debate in March when he testified before a U.S. Senate committee. Lindenberger was vaccinated when he turned 18 last year, but he would have done it sooner if his “anti-vaxxer” mother hadn’t forbidden it.
“I went my entire life without vaccinations against diseases such as measles, chicken pox or even polio,” he told the Senate committee.
He didn’t blame his mother but rather the misinformation she encountered online.
“The information leading people to fear for their children, for themselves and for their families is causing outbreaks of preventable diseases,” he concluded.
The Associated Press contributed to this story
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