What to Know
- A small, but vocal anti-vaccination lobby is vocal social media, though overwhelming medical evidence long ago debunked most negative claims
- New Jersey and New York had the most anti-immunization bills proposed in their state legislatures from 2011 to 2017, a new study found
- One New Jersey lawmaker said the state's "very, very broad vaccine policy" and strict school regulations may be a reason for so many bills.
New Jersey Assemblywoman Holly Schepisi for three years pushed legislative bills to exempt children under 6 years old from being required to get the Hepatitis B vaccine.
The Republican says she is "not an anti-vaxxer" and that all her children are fully vaccinated. The bills she introduced in 2012, 2015 and again 2016, Schepisi said, were initially introduced by a predecessor, but through her own research, she came to believe newborns in New Jersey don't need a Hep B vaccine immediately.
"I tested negative for Hep B. My husband tested negative. Why does my son, who would not engage in any sort of behaviors at that age, why do we need to give him that vaccination now?" she said. "There was no medical reason to give it to him. On that particular one, I felt strongly that of all the vaccinations we give at an early age, that is a no brainer."
The Centers for Disease Control recommend that "infants should get their first dose of hepatitis B vaccine at birth and will usually complete the series at six months of age."
Schepisi's bills, along with 21 others by fellow New Jersey lawmakers, including fellow Republican John DiMaio and Democrats Ralph Caputo and Sen. Shirley Turner, put the Garden State at the top of all 50 states in anti-vaccination legislation between 2011 and 2017, according to a new study by Drexel University researchers.
New Jersey was followed by New York, West Virginia and Mississippi, the study published in the American Journal of Public Health's December issue found.
All but one of the 92 anti-vaccine bills introduced across the country during that period were eventually shot down, but the study found that those types of bills increased in more recent years.
"It is reassuring to know that the legislative process is working in favor of public health," the study's principal author, Neal Goldstein, said.
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Still, he added, "It is concerning that there are so many anti-vaccination bills introduced."
Overwhelming evidence from medical experts has proven how important immunization is to both individuals and communities, yet some claims that vaccinations can cause long-lasting side effects persist.
"Vaccines are tested to ensure that they are safe and effective for children to receive at the recommended ages," the CDC writes on its website.
In the seven years surveyed for the Drexel study, 83 bills proposed were pro-vaccine compared to the 92 that proposed limiting or restricting vaccinations.
Both pro-and anti-vaccination bills increased from 2011 to 2017.
Goldstein said social media, as it has affected other public debates, is one of the biggest reasons for increased interest in vaccinations.
"The reality is the overwhelming majority vaccinate themselves and their children," he said. "You have this small, but vocal, minority that permeates social media, in particular."
His research didn't delve into why states like New Jersey and New York would lead the nation in vaccination legislation.
"I wish I had some insight into that," he said. "If I had guessed in advance, it would have been southern states where I expected the most anti-vaccination bills. The fact we saw it was mid-Atlantic and New England states pop up was fascinating."
New Jersey lawmakers DiMaio, Caputo and Turner did not return calls seeking comment. They were responsible for 13 of the 22 bills proposed in New Jersey,
Caputo's bills sought "exemptions from mandatory immunization for any reason."
Turner and DiMaio repeatedly sought to allow "philosophical exemptions" to mandatory vaccinations.
New Jersey, Schepisi said, has some of the strictest requirements for vaccinations, especially for school-age children. That, she said, may explain why the state led the way in proposed pushbacks against immunization.
"Your children can't attend school without the flu vaccine. It’s stuff that goes beyond measles and mumps," Schepisi said. "We have a very, very broad vaccine policy in this state."