Justice vetoes vaccination exemption bill, draws praise from healthcare groups

Gov. Jim Justice vetoed a bill loosening vaccination requirements in some schools, drawing praise from healthcare organizations.

Gov. Jim Justice

“Since this legislation was passed, I have heard constant, strong opposition to this legislation from our State’s medical community,” Justice wrote in his veto message.

“The overwhelming majority that have voiced their opinion believe that this legislation will do irreparable harm by crippling childhood immunity to diseases such as mumps and measles. West Virginia historically has seen very few instances of these diseases, specifically because the vaccination requirements in this State are so strong.”

The governor signed dozens of other bills on Wednesday, which was his deadline following legislative action. The bills he signed included one to phase out income taxes on Social Security and another representing pay raises for educators and State Police whose wage scales are in state code.

A press release from the Governor’s Office indicated Justice had acted on all legislation passed during the regular session, but a particularly controversial one, Senate Bill 841, was not listed with an action by the governor. That bill, generally, acts to freeze elements of the state’s unemployment safety net.

Justice also left untouched House Bill 4911, which loosened regulation of raw milk for those who want to drink it.

Bills with no action by the governor prior to midnight would automatically become law.

The one he vetoed, House Bill 5105, would have removed vaccination requirements for students in virtual public schools, and it also would have allowed private and parochial schools to set their own standards.

Educational and healthcare organizations banded together to urge a veto.

Twenty-eight organizations sent a joint letter to the governor requesting a veto of the bill. The letter was also published in the Charleston Gazette-Mail on March 15. Many of the organizations also sent individual letters or communication requesting a veto.

“We applaud the Governor for taking this step to protect the health and safety of children in our state,” said Elaine Darling, director of programs at The Center for Rural Health Development, the lead agency for the West Virginia Immunization Network.

“West Virginia has been and, with the veto of this bill, will continue to be a leader in protecting children from vaccine-preventable diseases.”

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.

Measles has seen a resurgence in the news recently. The Centers for Disease Control & Prevention has reported that the number of measles cases in the first three months of this year has already surpassed all of last year.

Cases have been reported in Arizona, California, Florida, Georgia, Illinois, Indiana, Louisiana, Maryland, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, New Jersey, New York City, Ohio, Pennsylvania, Virginia and Washington.

The organizations urging Justice to veto the vaccination exemptions bill have pointed to West Virginia’s rigorous standards and the recent outbreaks.

“Immunizations remain the best tool at our disposal for fighting vaccine-preventable diseases. We thank Gov. Justice for listening to pediatricians and putting kids first,” stated representatives of the American Academy of Pediatrics and its West Virginia chapter.

Groups representing religious and health freedom interests pushed for the governor to sign the bill.

Justice, a two-term governor, is running for U.S. Senate. His Republican primary opponent, Congressman Alex Mooney, blasted his decision to veto the vaccination bill.

Mooney’s campaign said that means Justice thinks the government can mandate a vaccine for private religious schools that violates their beliefs. And, said the Mooney campaign, Justice also believes you can force kids who are homeschooled and not in public schools to be vaccinated against their parents will.

“This is yet another sign of Liberal Jim Justice disregarding religious freedom and parental rights,” Mooney’s campaign stated.

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