West Virginia Governor Vetoes Bill That Would Have Loosened Vaccine Requirements

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West Virginia law mandates schoolchildren receive certain vaccines, including the combination shot against measles, mumps, and rubella.

West Virginia’s governor vetoed a bill on March 27 that would have allowed fewer children to get mandated vaccines.

Gov. Jim Justice, a Republican, said the move came after receiving feedback from doctors and others in the medical community.

“The overwhelming majority that have voiced their opinion believe that this legislation will do irreparable harm by crippling childhood immunity to diseases such as mumps and measles,” Mr. Justice said.

He later added: “I have always and will always defend our freedoms as West Virginians and as Americans. I hear how strongly people believe in one side or the other on this subject, and I respect all opinions.

“But I must follow the guidance of our medical experts on this subject. Our medical community in West Virginia serves our people every single day, helping protect our people from disease and poor health. Their wisdom should not be ignored–especially when it comes to the health and safety of our children.”

West Virginia law mandates schoolchildren receive certain vaccines, including the combination shot against measles, mumps, and rubella. The vetoed bill would have exempted private schools from these requirements, provided the schools notified the state’s Department of Health of their custom vaccination policy. The legislation would have also exempted students who attend virtual schools from the requirements.

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The bill at one point included an introduction of a religious exemption to the vaccination requirements, but that was stripped from the legislation as it made its way through the state’s legislative chambers. West Virginia is one of just five states that does not allow religious exemptions.

The West Virginia Senate approved the bill in a 20-12 vote earlier in March, and the West Virginia House of Delegates then passed it in a 70-29 vote.

Mr. Justice, who is running for the U.S. Senate, had until the end of March 27 to choose whether to sign or veto the bill. If he did not act, the bill would have become law.

Mr. Justice said as he weighed a decision that his office had been “bombarded with calls” from doctors and others who asked, “What in the world are we doing?”

Overriding the governor’s veto is possible but more lawmakers would have to support an override than voted to approve the bill.

State Del. Laura Kimble, a Republican who was the bill’s sponsor, did not return a request for comment.

“The stated reason to require most vaccinations of children, public safety, which can only be achieved by herd immunity is disingenuous, illogical and ultimately contrary to what we claim to be most important,” Ms. Kimble said previously.

Some groups had opposed the legislation, including the West Virginia Hospital Association, arguing it would lead to more cases of diseases targeted by vaccines.

“Thank you, Governor Jim Justice for vetoing this bill and giving WV kids the freedom from devastating and untreatable and highly contagious diseases such as measles, mumps, polio, pertussis, and rubella. We appreciate your leadership on this issue!” the West Virginia Women’s Alliance said in a statement after the governor’s veto.

Other organizations said parents should be free to make their own decisions for their children’s health.

Dr. Alvin Moss, a professor at the West Virginia University School of Medicine, had told lawmakers that mandated vaccines don’t align with the idea of informed consent.

“A mandatory policy goes against the whole idea of informed consent, so our current compulsory vaccination policy doesn’t allow informed consent, and if there were informed consent, then parents should be informed,” he said previously. “I know, they receive vaccine information statements when they go to the pediatrician’s office, but they have been watered down over the last decade and don’t truly get into all the information that could be available if parents really knew where to look.”

Due to the veto, all schoolchildren without a medical exemption must provide proof of vaccination against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, and hepatitis B. The number of doses required is 14.

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