States seek to cut off religious exemptions for vaccination

An illustration provides a 3D graphical representation of a spherical-shaped, measles virus particle studded with glycoprotein tubercles in this handout image obtained by Reuters April 9, 2019. (REUTERS)
Updated 07 May 2019
0

States seek to cut off religious exemptions for vaccination

  • The 440-foot Freewinds ship was previously quarantined in St. Lucia after a crew member was diagnosed with measles

NEW YORK: Connecticut’s Attorney General gave state lawmakers the legal go-ahead Monday to pursue legislation that would prevent parents from exempting their children from vaccinations for religious reasons, a move that several states are considering amid a significant measles outbreak.
The non-binding ruling from William Tong, a Democrat, was released the same day public health officials in neighboring New York called on state legislators there to pass similar legislation . Most of the cases in the current outbreak have been in New York state.
Tong offered no stance on whether the Connecticut General Assembly should scrap the exclusion, but he made it clear in the seven-page letter there is nothing in the law that would prevent the state from ending the exemption.
“There is no serious or reasonable dispute as to the State’s broad authority to require and regulate immunizations for children: the law is clear that the State of Connecticut may create, eliminate or suspend the religious exemption,” Tong wrote, adding that it’s within the state’s “well-settled power to protect public safety and health.”
Connecticut is just one of several states considering whether to end longstanding laws that allow people to opt out of vaccinations for religious purposes. In the face of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases, some have alleged religious exemptions have been abused by “anti-vaxxers” who believe vaccines are harmful despite overwhelming evidence to the contrary.
But the proposals to eliminate the opt-outs have also sparked emotional debates about religious freedom and the rights of parents.
Most religions have no prohibitions against vaccinations, according to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Tennessee. Yet the number of people seeking the religious exemption in Connecticut has been consistently climbing. There were 316 issued during the 2003-04 school year, compared to 1,255 in the 2017-18 school year.
Democratic House Majority Leader Matt Ritter, of Hartford, who wants the General Assembly to vote on ending the exemption, had requested Tong’s formal opinion — his first since taking office in January.
It’s unclear when or if Connecticut lawmakers might vote on ending the exemption this session, which ends June 5.
“I think there’s a growing consensus that Connecticut is going to need to do something pretty bold in the coming weeks, coming months,” Ritter said last week.
While Connecticut’s statewide immunization rate is high — 96.5% of kindergarten students are vaccinated for measles, mumps and rubella — concern persists about the growing number of families that have sought the religious exemption in recent years and the likelihood of bogus exemptions.
The state’s Department of Public Health released school-by-school data for the first time on Friday that showed more than 100 out of more than 1,300 public and private schools listed fell below the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s recommended 95% immunization rate among kindergarteners.
In neighboring New York, medical organizations and county health officials on Monday called for eliminating that state’s religious exemptions for vaccines and allowing only medical exemptions. Most of the nation’s 764 reported cases of measles, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, have been in New York. Health officials there say the majority of its cases have occurred in Orthodox Jewish communities in New York City and nearby Rockland County.
Connecticut has had three confirmed cases of measles, including one tied to New York.
Last week, the Maine state Senate moved to end philosophical exemptions to vaccines but stopped short of ending religious exemptions. The bill still awaits further legislative action. And last month, California’s Senate Health Committee approved a proposal to give state public health officials, instead of doctors, the power to decide which children can skip their shots before attending school.
Meanwhile, the Colorado legislature last week abandoned efforts to make it harder for parents to option their children out of vaccines. The bill had drawn big crowds of vaccination opponents to the state Capitol.
In Connecticut, parents’ rights groups, socially conservative groups and dozens of Republican lawmakers have balked at the discussion of rolling back the stateeligious exemption. Angry parents have appeared at the Capitol for weeks, making it clear to legislators they believe their rights are at risk.
“They want to stop people who they think are abusing the religious exemption and that is incorrect. The government has zero right to ask you what your religion is or for you to explain it,” said Shannon Gamache, of Ashford, in a recent interview. She chose not to have her son fully vaccinated after he experienced what she believes were adverse side effects from a vaccine.
All 50 states have laws requiring students to have certain vaccinations. According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all but Mississippi, West Virginia and California grant religious exemptions. As of Jan. 30, the conference said 17 states allowed people to exempt their children for personal, moral or other philosophical beliefs.


‘Mother of Satan’ bombs show foreign hand in Sri Lanka bombings: investigators

Updated 21 May 2019
0

‘Mother of Satan’ bombs show foreign hand in Sri Lanka bombings: investigators

  • Detectives said the back-pack bombs used in the April 21 attacks on three churches and three hotels were manufactured by local militants with Daesh expertise
  • It was also used in the 2015 attacks in Paris, by a suicide bomber who hit the Manchester Arena in England in 2017 and attacks on churches in Indonesia one year ago

COLOMBO: One month after the Sri Lanka suicide attacks that killed more than 250 people, investigators have told AFP the bombers used “Mother of Satan” explosives favored by the Daesh group that are a new sign of foreign involvement.
Detectives said the back-pack bombs used in the April 21 attacks on three churches and three hotels were manufactured by local militants with Daesh expertise.
They named the explosive as triacetone triperoxide, or TATP, an unstable but easily made mixture favored by Daesh militants who call it “Mother of Satan.”
It was also used in the 2015 attacks in Paris, by a suicide bomber who hit the Manchester Arena in England in 2017 and attacks on churches in Indonesia one year ago.
Daesh has claimed the Sri Lankan bombers operated as part of its franchise. But Sri Lankan and international investigators are anxious to know just how much outside help went into the attacks that left 258 dead and 500 injured.
“The group had easy access to chemicals and fertilizer to get the raw materials to make TATP,” an official involved in the investigation told AFP.
Sri Lankan detectives say the National Thowheeth Jama’ath (NTJ), local militants blamed for the attacks, must have had foreign help to assemble the bombs.

“They would have had a face-to-face meeting to transfer this technology. This is not something you can do by watching a YouTube video,” said the official, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Investigators had initially believed that C4 explosives — a favored weapon of Tamil Tiger rebels — were used, but forensic tests found TATP which causes more burning than C4.
Police have also confirmed that 100 kilograms (220 pounds) of explosives found in January in the island’s northwest was TATP.
They are checking the travel records of the suicide bombers as well as foreign suspects to see when and where bomb-making lessons could have been staged.
“It looks like they used a cocktail of TATP and gelignite and some chemicals in the Easter attacks. They were short of the 100 kilos of raw TATP that were seized in January,” said the investigator.
Sri Lankan security forces have staged a series of raids since the bombings. Police spokesman Ruwan Gunasekera said Sunday that 89 suspects are in custody.
Army chief Mahesh Senanayake said last week that at least two suspects have been arrested in Qatar and Saudi Arabia, underscoring the international link.
On April 26, six militants, three widows of the suicide bombers and six of their children were killed at an NTJ safe house near the eastern coastal town of Kalmunai.
Police found large quantities of chemicals and fertilizer there that was probably meant to make bombs, authorities said.
The government has admitted that Indian warnings of the looming attacks in early April were ignored.
But President Maithripala Sirisena has said eight countries are helping the investigation. A US Federal Bureau of Investigation team is in Sri Lanka and Britain, Australia and India have provided forensic and technical support.
China offered a fleet of vehicles to bolster the mobility of the security forces tracking down militants.

The Sri Lankan who led the attacks, Zahran Hashim, was known to have traveled to India in the months before he became one of the suicide bombers.
Moderate Muslims had warned authorities about the radical cleric who first set off alarm bells in 2017 when he threatened non-Muslims.
He was one of two bombers who killed dozens of victims at Colombo’s Shangri-La hotel on April 21.
Army chief Senanayake said Hashim had traveled to Tamil Nadu state in southern India and been in contact with extremists there.
Hashim, one of seven bombers who staged the attacks, also appeared in an Daesh group video that claimed responsibility for the attacks.
Another bomber who was meant to have hit a fourth hotel, has been named as Abdul Latheef Jameel who studied aviation engineering in Britain and Australia.
Authorities in the two countries are investigating whether he was radicalized whilst abroad.
Jameel blew himself up when confronted at a hideout after the attacks.