CHARLESTON, W.Va. — West Virginia has some of the strictest limits on exempting children from vaccines required before they can attend school. Some parents are lobbying the Legislature to change that, while public health officials warn that the state already suffers low immunization rates against diseases such as polio, whooping cough and measles.
All states, including West Virginia, allow school-bound children to skip immunizations for medical reasons. But while 48 states also permit exemptions on religious grounds, West Virginia and Mississippi do not, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Of these other states, 20 also allow philosophical objections including neighboring Ohio and Pennsylvania.
At a House-Senate hearing last month, parents told lawmakers they want a religious exemption in West Virginia. They say they’re wrongly forced to home-school their children, or even enroll them in neighboring states, because they object to the immunization requirements.
“Every parent has the right to make informed, educated decisions regarding their children’s health care, especially in the case of vaccination, which is clearly a medical procedure,” Lori Lee, a leader of this effort, told the Joint Committee on Health.
The parents’ reasons vary. Several speakers alleged a link between vaccines and abortions.
“Fourteen of the vaccines required by the state of West Virginia contain aborted fetal tissue, of over 150 babies, and their cell lines are aging,” Lee told lawmakers. “That bothers me as a Christian, that I have to choose between my faith in God and sending my children to public or private school.”
Public health officials sought to address such concerns during the hearing. Dr. Raheel Khan, assistant professor of pediatrics at West Virginia University, explained how some vaccines have been cultivated in cells that were developed from cells taken from aborted fetuses more than 40 years ago.