As 2 New England States End Religious Exemption For School Vaccines, Lawmaker Makes Push In Mass.

May 11, 2021

A Massachusetts lawmaker hopes to follow to lead of Connecticut and Maine, and eliminate the religious exemption for childhood vaccine requirements in schools.

In each of the last two legislative sessions, Massachusetts state Rep. Andy Vargas of Haverhill has sponsored a bill to get rid of the religious exemption.

Vargas said he decided to act after he was contacted by the parents of a child who is immunocompromised. Vargas said they expressed concern about the resurgence of measles across the country.

"They wondered how was it that states like Mississippi and West Virginia — that theoretically are much more religious than Massachusetts — have gotten rid of the religious exemption for childhood vaccines," he said. "Yet a state like Massachusetts, which upholds science, and has some of the best medical and scientific institutions in the world, still has a religious exemption on the books that puts kids and families at risk."

The Connecticut law, which has been challenged in federal court, is set to take effect September 1, 2022. Students who have religious exemptions already on file would be able to continue attending school.

Maine decided to get rid of its religious and philosophical exemptions as of September 1, 2021. It allows unvaccinated students receiving special education services to stay in school, as long as the exemption is filed before the law takes effect.

In Rhode Island, Vermont and New Hampshire, religious exemptions remain in place.

All 50 states allow for medical exemptions to school vaccination requirements, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures.

While many colleges and universities are requiring students to get vaccinated for COVID-19 before the fall semester, the NCSL says no state currently requires the vaccine to attend elementary and high schools.

Federal health officials only this week approved the use of one of the COVID-19 vaccines for children as young as 12.