A bipartisan group of North Carolina senators are worried about a rise in contagious diseases, and they want to eliminate the state’s exemption of childhood vaccination requirements for parents who object for religious reasons.
The senators, under a bill they filed on Thursday, are proposing to change the vaccination schedule for children who attend public schools.
The requirements would parallel requirements outlined by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The proposal adds influenza B, polio and whooping cough vaccines and does not include the vaccine to protect against the cervical cancer virus called HPV, or human papillomavirus.
The bill sponsors—Sens. Tamara Beringer (R-Wake), Jeff Tarte (R-Mecklenburg) and Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe)—said at a press conference Thursday they had not found objections against vaccinations from major world religions and they were concerned about the number of parents invoking religious concerns to not vaccinate their children attending public schools. Van Duyn said Buncombe County has the highest percentage with more than 4.5 percent of school children being unvaccinated.
"This is a serious public health problem," Van Duyn said. "We're starting to see cases of serious diseases that we thought we had eradicated."
Tarte, who said he anticipates vigorous debate around Senate Bill 346, said the measure could change as it’s debated in the General Assembly. He said his driving concern is the impact unvaccinated children can have on their classmates. To qualify for a religious exemption under current law, parents with children in public schools are required only to present a written objection.
"We have so many people using it to opt out of vaccinating," Tarte said. "And that starts violating the herd immunity, you hear about community immunity."