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          "Everyone is entitled to express their opinions but we have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of all children," said Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg

          By Claudia Harmata
          January 13, 2020 05:36 PM
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          Multiple large-scale studies have found that vaccines are safe. There is no scientific link between vaccines and autism, according to the Centers for Disease Control.

          Lawmakers in New Jersey will be voting on a bill that would eliminate most religious exemptions for vaccines for schoolchildren in the state.

          The vote was set to take place on Monday, after final amendments to the bill were made on Thursday, several outlets have reported.

          If voted into law, the bill will prevent parents from using religious exemptions to avoid vaccination requirements in the state’s public schools. They would still be allowed at private schools and private daycare centers, allowing those institutions to decide on vaccination policies for themselves. However, these schools will have to disclose their vaccination rates to all students and their families, according to CNN.

          “Everyone is entitled to express their opinions but we have a responsibility to protect the health and safety of all children, the people in their lives and in their communities,” Senate Majority Leader Loretta Weinberg told the outlet. She is also a sponsor of the bill.

          “We will get this done because it is the right thing to do and I believe we have the support in the Senate to get this legislation approved on Monday with the exemption for private schools and daycare centers that choose to allow unvaccinated students,” she added.

          Protestors in New Jersey
          Mike Catalini/AP/Shutterstock

          Should the bill pass, New Jersey will join five other states — New York, California, West Virginia, Maine and Mississippi —who have voted away religious exemption on vaccinations. New York removed religious exemptions in June after large measles outbreaks occurred in unvaccinated communities around the state.

          According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all 50 states require some specified vaccines for students in their schools, however, exemptions vary state to state. The conference notes that currently, 45 states as well as Washington D.C. grant religious exemptions. On the other hand, 15 states allow philosophical exemptions for those who object to immunizations due to personal beliefs.

          On Monday, several opponents to the bill gathered outside of the statehouse to protest. They argue that the bill infringes on their rights as parents to decide what is best for their children.

          “I’m against taking all the control out of parents’ hands and putting it in the government’s hands,” Beata Savreski, a mother of three, told CNN. “I grew up in communism. This is worse than communism.”

          Protesters rally outside the New Jersey state house
          Seth Wenig/AP/Shutterstock

          New Jersey’s bill comes just two months after a new study in the journal Pediatrics found that anti-vaxxers have been increasingly claiming religious exemptions for their children since 2011, even though no major religion explicitly opposes vaccination. The study suggests that parents are replacing personal belief exemptions with a religious one in order to get their children out of vaccinations.

          “When you give parents two options in a state, personal belief and religious exemption, a very small percent of parents are actually opting for religious exemptions if given an alternative,” Dr. Joshua Williams, the study’s lead author told CNN in November.

          Additionally, multiple large studies have confirmed that vaccines are safe and do not cause autism, but anti-vaxxers and religious groups have rallied against vaccines as misinformation spreads online. In 2019, there was a 30 percent increase in measles cases worldwide and deadly outbreaks in areas with large amounts of unvaccinated children.

          In the U.S., there were 1,249 cases of the measles, the most in over 25 years, since 1992. Though the measles was considered eradicated in 2000 with the advent of the measles vaccine, the U.S. was at risk of losing that status.

          In January 2019, the World Health Organization named vaccine hesitancy — the “reluctance or refusal to vaccinate despite the availability” — as one of the top threats to global health.

          According to both ABC, CNN, and the Associated Press, it is unclear whether Democratic Gov. Phil Murphy will support the bill should it pass in the state legislature.

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