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Virginia House Subcommittee Tosses Out Immunization Mandate Bill Print

BY: KATIE DEMERIA Richmond Times-Dispatch

CREATED: Tuesday, January 24, 2017

A House Health, Welfare and Institutions subcommittee Tuesday tossed out a bill that would have mandated a new vaccine for all sixth-graders in Virginia.  The bill was backed by the Virginia Department of Health and brought forward by Del. Patrick Hope, D-Arlington. It would have required that Virginia students receive an immunization to protect against the bacteria that causes meningococcal disease.  "It is rare, but it is very serious," Hope said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the most severe illnesses the bacteria cause include infections in the fluid surrounding the brain and spine.  The Medical Society of Virginia, the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Virginia Association of School Nurses spoke in favor of the bill, along with the Department of Health.

But opposition came out in force. Representatives with the National Vaccine Information Center and Virginians for Medical Freedom spoke against the bill during Tuesday's hearing.  Opponents argued that cases of meningococcal disease are so rare that they do not require a mandate, and that education about the vaccine is far more likely to cause children to get immunized than mandates.

The percentage of Virginia adolescents that already receive the vaccine is 66.8 percent, Hope said, which is below the national average.  "School immunization requirements are a key and important strategy of improving these rates and protecting our children," Laurie Forlano, the state epidemiologist, told the committee.