Massachusetts Senate Bill Could Restrict K-12 School Vaccination Religious Exemptions

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Religious exemptions for vaccinations for public and private school students may be harder to get if a measure state legislators are considering becomes law.

That’s because part of S.3030, a 194-page state Senate amendment to H.5034, the state’s economic development bill, would remove the authority to grant and deny religious exemptions to the state’s public and private schools. It would instead transfer that authority to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The Senate Committee on Ways and Means sponsored the amendment to the House economic development bill. 

Massachusetts Family Institute president Andrew Beckwith told NewBostonPost the measure would  most likely negatively affect private religious schools and their attendees the most.

“They share the relgious values of the parents and the families that attend it, so they’re willing to make the accomodations to allow people to attend it,” Beckwith said in a telephone interview Friday, July 29, two days before the state legislative session ends. “Now, they want to take that power away from the local schools and give it to the Department of Public Health — and we have no idea how likely they will be to approve these.”

Beckwith pointed out that an administration that doesn’t support religious vaccination exemptions could show less lenience than a local faith-based school.

Beckwith also expressed concern about all of these exemption requests and the accompanying information being put in a state-run database.

“The infomation on you, what you believe, and your kid is now in a state database instead of at your local private school,” Beckwith said, if the proposal becomes law.

State law currently calls for students at both public and private schools to be vaccinated “against diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles and poliomyelitis and such other communicable diseases as may be specified from time to time by the department of public health“ — with certain exceptions for medical needs and religions beliefs.

On religions exemptions, the current state statute says:


In the absence of an emergency or epidemic of disease declared by the department of public health, no child whose parent or guardian states in writing that vaccination or immunization conflicts with his sincere religious beliefs shall be required to present said physician’s certificate in order to be admitted to school.


The proposal that would put the state Department of Public Health in charge of the exemption process says the following:


Section 4. The declaration of religious exemption form shall include: (i) a statement that the participant or responsible adult has a sincere religious belief conflicting with immunizations; (ii) a certification that the responsible adult has provided a complete and accurate copy of the religious exemption form to the participant’s primary health care provider, including the provider’s name and contact information; (iii) an acknowledgement of receipt from a provider on the participant’s primary health care team; and (iv) a request for the dated signature of the responsible adult. The form shall include a statement from the department that refusing to immunize is against public health policy and may result in serious illness or death of the participant or others. The department may provide alternative requirements to clauses (ii) and (iii) of this section if a participant does not have a primary health care provider.

Section 5. Covered program participants shall provide: (a) documentation of immunizations in accordance with the schedule; (b) a validly executed and accurately completed declaration of exemption; or (c) other documentation as determined by the department of public health. A private covered program may implement immunization requirements more stringent than those set forth in this chapter; provided, that the program creates and maintains a written immunization policy, which shall be made available to all responsible adults; and provided further, that no private covered program shall refuse to accept medical exemptions.


Statewide, 1.0 percent of students are exempt from at least one vaccine, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health. This means that the vaccination rate against these viruses is 99 percent in the Bay State’s schools. 

Senate Ways and Means chairman Michael Rodrigues (D-Westport) and vice chairman Cindy Friedman (D-Arlington) could not be immediately reached for comment on Friday, July 29.


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