A bill introduced in the North Carolina Senate would more than double the number of mandatory vaccines for children in the state, and at the same time would repeal an existing law that allows parents to exempt their children from the immunization mandate for religious reasons. This would make North Carolina one of only five states in the nation that lacks an explicit religious exemption from immunization requirements.
Senate Bill 346-Enact Stricter Immunization Requirements, filed in the State Senate on March 19, would make several changes to the State’s current immunization law, including:
“We recognize the effectiveness and safety of vaccines for the vast majority of the population,” said John L. Rustin, president of the North Carolina Family Policy Council. “However, parents have the ultimate right and responsibility for the care, custody, and control of their children. Eliminating the religious exemption and handing over policy decisions about future immunization mandates to an unelected federal advisory committee is not in the best interest of North Carolina families.”
The bill, which is sponsored by Sens. Jeff Tarte (R-Mecklenburg), Tamara Barringer (R-Wake), and Terry Van Duyn (D-Buncombe), has raised the concern of a number of pro-family and pro-life groups and individuals. The following are several reasons:
Solution in Search of a Problem: According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, North Carolina’s vaccination rate for kindergarteners is well above the national average. Likewise, the state’s rate of exemption from vaccinations for both medical and religious reasons is close to half the national average for both categories. In fact, less than 1 percent of North Carolina kindergarteners in the 2012-13 school year were exempted from one or more vaccines. (See the CDC’s Vaccination Coverage Among Children in Kindergarten – 2013-14 School Year for more details.)
Denies Religious Liberty and Parental Rights: The First Amendment to the United States Constitution, and Article 1, Section 13 of the North Carolina Constitution recognize the fundamental right of citizens to exercise their religious freedom. Additionally, state and federal courts have consistently upheld the fundamental right of parents to direct the care, custody, and control of their children. While a legitimate concern has been raised about parents who may opt out of vaccines based on bad science, many parents who object to immunizations base their decisions on valid medical and religious grounds. For example, the vaccines for rubella and varicella originate from the tissue of aborted children, and an alternative “clean” vaccine derived from non-controversial sources, like adult stem cells or animal cells, is currently unavailable.
Places Future Vaccine Decisions With an Unelected Federal Advisory Committee: Not only would SB 346 expand the list of vaccines mandated in statute from six (diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, poliomyelitis, red measles (rubeola), and rubella) to 14 (adding hepatitis A, hepatitis B, rotavirus, mumps, pneumococcal disease, influenza, varicella, and meningitis), but the bill would also allow unelected federal policymakers to decide which additional vaccines may be mandated in the future. Following the list of mandated vaccines, SB 346 states, “…and any other virus, disease, or condition against which the United States Department of Health and Human Services, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP), currently recommends for persons aged from birth through 18 years.” Although the current bill explicitly prohibits requiring vaccines “against human papillomavirus (HPV) or any other sexually transmitted disease,” there is no way to know what additional viruses, diseases, or conditions the ACIP may recommend immunization for in the future.
Senate Bill 346 has been assigned to the Senate Health Care Committee.