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

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.


Sri Lanka launches online portal for migrant workers amid virus scare

A municipal worker sprays disinfectant on an ambulance in Atulugama on March 29, 2020, after the town was sealed off by health authorities following fears that it could be a cluster for COVID-19 infection after two positive cases. (AFP)
Updated 7 min 44 sec ago

Sri Lanka launches online portal for migrant workers amid virus scare

  • Inquiries include the welfare of student populations, extension of visa permits, lack of financial support for the unemployed, non-payment of salaries, the closing down of commercial establishments and questions related to quarantine measures on arrival

COLOMBO: To help its overseas migrant workers deal with the coronavirus, Sri Lanka’s Ministry of Foreign Relations has launched an online portal where citizens can voice their concerns, officials said on Sunday.

“All Sri Lankans living abroad were invited to register voluntarily on the platform . . . allowing the government to reach out and provide assistance during emergencies such as the Covid-19 outbreak. This platform will allow the ministry to access real-time data for quick action,” an official from the foreign ministry said on Sunday.

Since its launch on March 26, the “Contact Sri Lanka” portal has seen 17,000 registrations, with several saying they want to return home as soon as possible.

“A bulk of the 700 inquiries received through the portal relate to the possibility of a return to the country,” excerpts from a statement released by the Ministry of Foreign Relations and made available to Arab News, read on Sunday.

Registration by residents in the country will also allow the ministry to propose concrete policy decisions in critical response situations, such as evacuation measures, depending on the number of emergency assistance requests generated, the statement said.

It added that establishment of the portal was based on a “call made by President Gotabaya Rajapaksa for coordinated efforts by all government stakeholders to fight the Covid-19 outbreak and to harness digital technology to prompt faster and more efficient service delivery.”

Deputy General Manager of the Sri Lanka Bureau of Foreign Employment (SLBFE) W. Leelaratne told Arab News that Sri Lankan employees, particularly at missions in the Middle East and Asia, would be working with host governments “to secure fair treatment and concessions for expatriate workers to the maximum extent possible.”

“This includes safeguarding the rights of the workers related to the payment of salaries and ensuring job security, ” he said.

Leelaratne said that due to the current global situation; the SLBFE has opened a 24/7 help desk for all migrant workers who could seek assistance by contacting the hotline.

Inquiries include the welfare of student populations, extension of visa permits, lack of financial support for the unemployed, non-payment of salaries, the closing down of commercial establishments and questions related to quarantine measures on arrival.

Dr. Anil Jasinghe, director general of Health Services, said that the number of coronavirus cases had risen to 110 with the detection of four new cases on Sunday.

Two of the four cases were arrivals from the south Indian city of Chennai, with Jasinghe saying that the government had requested all those flying in from Chennai to report to the nearest health facility for mandatory quarantine arrangements.

As an additional measure, the villages of Atulugama, Akurana and Kadayankulam have been placed under lockdown, while the districts of Colombo, Gampaha, Kalutara, Puttalam and Jaffna have been declared high-risk zones with a full-day curfew to continue in these areas until further notice.