Pennsylvania State Senator: Remove Philosophical Exemption to Vaccinations

A Pennsylvania state senator wants to remove an exemption to the state's vaccination rules that's keeping thousands of children from being immunized against diseases like measles.

State Sen. Daylin Leach (D-17th) tells NBC10 he intends to introduce legislation to eliminate the philosophical exemption from the commonwealth's immunization rule. The exemption allows parents to avoid having their kids vaccinated because of a strong moral or ethical conviction. It's treated similar to a religious belief.

"Since we have this unusual exemption, it results in a lot more people who, for a variety of reasons, don't want to get their kids vaccinated," he said in an interview Thursday.

The law would not remove the exemptions based on religious beliefs or pre-existing medical conditions, Leach said.

Leach decided to make a move on the loophole after a large measles outbreak at Disneyland sparked nationwide concern and reignited the anti-vaccination debate. Measles is considered eliminated United States, but there were nearly 650 cases last year. There have been more than 120 confirmed cases in 2015 with 85 percent of those linked to the theme park.

Children attending school in Pennsylvania are required to be immunized against measles, mumps, rubella, hepatitis, whooping cough and other illnesses.

Yet, Pennsylvania has the second lowest vaccination rate among kindergartners nationwide, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Last year, 3,394 children were not immunized under the philosophical exemption, Leach said citing state Department of Health statistics. Comparatively, 2,988 children cited the religious exemption to avoid vaccination.

High immunization rates — between 90 and 95 percent — are important to achieve what's called herd immunity and prevent outbreaks, health experts say. Pennsylvania's vaccination rate against measles stands at 85 percent.

"A very small percentage of people not vaccinating their children could put all of us in danger," Leach said.

Despite countless assurances that vaccines are safe, opposition to being immunized and to Leach's push to have the law change exists.

"It must be left there," activist Louise Francis said. She believes parents need the philosophical option for times when parents cannot meet the health or religious exemption.

"There are huge barriers toward getting that medical exemption even when there's a good medical reason," Francis said.

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