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Change would exempt West Virginia private schools from state vaccination requirements

The House Judiciary Committee took a bill to eliminate vaccine requirements for public virtual schools and expanded it to also eliminate state vaccine requirements for West Virginia’s private and parochial schools.

Brandon Steele

“This would allow private and parochial schools to make their own determination as to whether or not they’re going to adopt an immunization schedule such as the one in current code — one more stringent, one less stringent or none at all,” said Delegate Brandon Steele, R-Raleigh, who first proposed the amendment.

A majority of committee members voted for the change and then for advancement of the bill during a Tuesday evening meeting that also served as a venting session about the effectiveness of vaccines.

As of now, the West Virginia Department of Education boasts that the state has one of the most effective school-entry vaccine preventable laws in the nation:  “The vaccination laws have proven to improve attendance rates for students and staff while ensuring children stay healthy, safe, and ready to learn.”

West Virginia students entering school for the first time must show proof of immunization against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, and hepatitis B unless properly medically exempted.

House Bill 5105 as first introduced had only one operative line to change that section of state law: “Any child attending public, virtual schools shall be exempt from the requirements of this article.”

The amendment by Steele would now open that up to private schools too. The bill’s next stop is the full House of Delegates.

Shawn Fluharty

Delegate Shawn Fluharty, D-Ohio, suggested there are about 15,000 students enrolled in private schools in West Virginia. “Those 15,000 would now not be mandated to provide proof of being immunized to attend private or parochial schools,” said Fluharty, who voted against the amendment and bill.

“So potentially none of the schools could require it or all of the schools could require it, but the state would not be doing that.”

Todd Kirby

Delegate Todd Kirby, R-Raleigh, spoke in favor of the expanded bill “so that we can give parents the choice as to whether or not their children should be injected 40 times before they reach their 18th birthday.”

Kirby, who is running for circuit judge, said experts and doctors during the covid-19 pandemic were allowed to “completely override the constitutional rights of our parents and our children in this state.

“Every time they would lie to us they would come out with an even bigger lie to cover up the last lie. They kept our kids out of school for the better part of a year. And the governor of the state went around providing incentives for all of our children to be vaccinated with a medical device, or whatever you want to call it, that ended up causing a lot of harm to our children, especially young males.”

Chris Pritt

Delegate Chris Pritt, R-Kanawha, described West Virginia “at the bottom when it comes to medical freedom.”

“The more we can move in the direction of freedom — freedom for parents, freedom for them to make the decisions that they see best for their children, I think that’s a good thing — I think that’s a good thing,” said Pritt, who is running for state Senate.

Mark Tightened

Delegate Mark Zatezalo, R-Hancock, voted against the bill.

“Watching what happened with polio and watching what happened with mumps, measles, and several of these others there has been an awful lot of suffering that has been been eliminated in in this country by these vaccines,” Zatezalo said.

Evan Hansen

Delegate Evan Hansen, D-Monongalia, argued that “the people who study this, people have the data, unambiguously come to the conclusion that vaccines serve a public good. The benefits far outweigh the risks. That’s what the data tells us.”

Steele concluded debate before the final committee vote on the bill by aiming at phrases like “trusting the science” and “the data indicates.” He also made reference to protections against lawsuits by vaccine producers.

“A scientific argument about this is about meritless because the people that are arguing the science have complete immunity from lying about it or doctoring up the information,” Steele said. “You can’t even sue these people. They’re manufacturing the vaccines that are providing you the data that are telling you it’s safe.”

He continued by saying he hadn’t observed measles or mumps outbreaks in states with looser vaccine regulations.

“Show me all the dead kids in Virginia, Kentucky, Pennsylvania, Maryland, all around us. Are they dropping from measles?” Steele asked. “Did they quit running the Brady Bunch episode where everybody jokingly got the measles?”

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