Senate Bill 346, which would have removed religious exemptions to mandatory vaccination of school children, was declared dead back in April. Those who choose not to vaccinate breathed a sigh of relief, but there was a huge backlash from pro-vaccine parents and health professionals.
This time around, we have House Bill 13. This requires all children entering the public school system to have a health examination and be in accordance with the CDC recommended vaccine schedule. This is a revision of an existing law that sets these requirements for rising kindergartners.
In it, children at any grade level will be disallowed entry into the public school system until they have a medical doctor complete this paperwork. The reasoning behind it, say the bill’s supporters, is “merely capturing some of the stuff that goes on in a doctor’s office that’s basically primary clinical input and making sure it gets into a school’s record appropriately.”
It seems to be a middle-ground approach that has all the best intentions. But we all know that good intentions do not always equal good results. It is important to investigate what bills of this type include, what they exempt and who they really affect.
Public schools across the state will be affected, should this bill pass. Private schools have always had autonomy, however charter schools must adhere to the same laws that govern public education. This bill, though, exempts religiously-based charter schools, despite the fact that charter schools are not allowed to have religious associations.
Additionally, an updated list of vaccines is included in this revised version. The bill tagged on varicella, but omits HPV vaccination. HPV infects over 6.2 million people in the US each year, and can lead to cervical cancer. The legislators are cherry-picking preventable diseases to pander to the religious right.
But the most troubling issue in all of it is this:
In the bill, it clearly states “the principal shall not permit the child to attend the school until the required health assessment transmittal form has been presented.” This flies in the face of NC compulsory education laws that require children aged seven to 16 to be in school or they, and their parents, may face truancy charges.
This puts some families in a dangerous predicament as it unfairly targets undocumented children and those of lower economic standing who face greater barriers to healthcare. Instead of penalizing them, services should be offered to mitigate the potential negative impacts on these communities.
At the end of it all, this should not be a debate over whether or not to require vaccines, which ones, or who gets them. This is just another bill in a sea of recent legislation that unduly targets lower-income populations. North Carolina deserves better. We must stop this trend of criminalizing the poor.