CHARLESTON, W.Va. — The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and the state Department of Education supported the immunization bill passed by the state Senate, but opposed House amendments Wednesday.
The proposed House amendments, in SB 286, would eliminate the DHHR’s ability to add vaccines through the state’s current medical exemption process.
The DHHR uses a process that allows a child to go to their physician, fill out a form that is submitted to the DHHR, and then a decision is made whether or not to approve or deny the exemption. The patient can then appeal the exemption.
“That’s how it should work and has worked,” said Dr. Rahul Gupta, State Health Officer and Commissioner for DHHR’s Bureau for Public Health, “We have not had issues of a measles outbreak. We are known as a model state of immunizations. This amendment would take that away and put us down in the nation.”
Accoriding to The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 173 people in 17 states and the District of Columbia have become infected with measles since Jan. 1 as a result of one outbreak in California.
Gupta said West Virginia is one of two states in the U.S. that allows these medical exemptions. For that reason, they have not had to deal with outbreaks of disease, such as the Ebola virus, that has been present in other states.
Gupta said the state has benefited from allowing medical exemptions because they have had a solid process that has worked for years, but with the current bill set up, they are unable to prevent any diseases.
“If the recommendation was that we have to get people lined up and give the shot, we could quarantine people. Unfortunately, that’s the extent when bad things happen. However, we could not vaccinate them,” said Gupta, who was a guest on Wednesday’s MetroNews “Talkine.”
According to the 2013 America’s Health Ranking, West Virginia ranked number one in the nation for its low incidence of infectious diseases, which comes from the state’s strong immunization laws. The ranking states that West Virginia currently has some the best kindergarten immunization rates in the nation that prevent outbreaks of vaccine diseases in its school and communities.
Michael Martirano, West Virginia Superintendent of Schools, said the immunization laws protect children and school staff who are unable to receive vaccinations due to things such as medical conditions or allergies to vaccines.
“Any change in state law would force our education system backwards countless years,” said Martirano.
The bill is now before the House Judiciary Committee.