Northampton Council resolves to oust religious exemptions to vaccinations

  • Starr Roden, left, a registered nurse and immunization outreach coordinator with the Knox County Health Department, administers a vaccination to Jonathan Detweiler, 6, at the facility in Mount Vernon, Ohio, May 17, 2019. AP PHOTO/Paul Vernon

Staff Writer
Published: 6/25/2019 11:34:24 PM

NORTHAMPTON — The City Council unanimously passed a resolution at its Thursday meeting calling on the commonwealth to eliminate the religious exemption for childhood vaccinations.

The resolution, “Encouraging the Northampton Board of Health and the Massachusetts State Legislature to Take Action to Increase Measles Immunization Rates in our Communities,” will come up for a vote on second reading at the council’s next meeting.

The text of the resolution urges the state House of Representatives to pass HD 4284, co-sponsored by Rep. Lindsay Sabadosa, D-Northampton, which would eliminate religious exemptions to the requirement that children be vaccinated before they can attend public school. Exemptions for medical purposes would remain.

Ward 4 City Councilor Gina Louise-Sciarra said two Northampton elementary schools have the highest vaccine exemption rates for public schools in the county. Those schools are Jackson Street School and RK Finn Ryan Road School. 

“When the expression of one’s religious beliefs puts other lives at risk, then that really goes beyond an individual’s rights,” she said. 

Under state law, children can’t be admitted to public school unless they have been “immunized against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles and poliomyelitis and such other communicable diseases as may be specified from time to time by the department of public health,” unless they receive a medical or religious exemption.

In speaking in support of the resolution, Board of Health Chairwoman Joanne Levin, a physician, said those most at risk from measles are children who are too young to get vaccinated.

The council’s resolution also encourages the Senate to take up similar legislation to HD 4284, while also asking the city’s Board of Health to look into further actions to increase vaccination rates, such as requiring a sworn affidavit or signature from a clergy member to get a religious exemption.

Ward 3 City Councilor James Nash noted that when he was younger, immunization was part of the culture “because it was saving lives.”

“We all kind of got it,” he said.

Nash also said that he remembers talking to family members who had friends and family members who died of infectious disease.

“Science is a good thing,” he said. “We don’t want to go back to where things were.”

Bera Dunau can be reached at bdunau@gazettenet.com.


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