House passes bill to remove childhood vaccination requirement

By Matthew Young, RealWV

CHARLESTON, W.Va. – “I do not like vaccine mandates. I do not like them here, I do not like them there, I do not like them anywhere – and that’s all I have to say about that.”

That’s what Del. Larry Kump, R-Berkeley, told colleagues in the House Chamber on Monday, to begin debate on HB 5105. Introduced by Del. Laura Kimble, R-Harrison, the bill seeks to eliminate childhood vaccination requirements for all private, religious, virtual, and charter school students, as well as to create open-ended religious exemptions for children enrolled in public schools. Students without religious objections who participate in WVSSAC-sanctioned events would still require vaccinations, regardless of the school they attend. 

While addressing her fellow House members, Kimble called HB 5105, “A little bill with a little change to a mandate.”

“When I found out that public virtual school students were required to have all the vaccinations in the mandate, I thought the absurdity was evident,” Kimble said. “That is how this bill came to be. […] After I filed (to run for office) I found out that for a child to attend school, public or private, they have to be fully vaccinated. And we don’t have a religious exemption – I couldn’t believe it.”

According to Kimble, the lack of a religious vaccination exemption represents an infringement upon the religious freedoms of West Virginians by the state’s government. 

“I’m not anti-vaccine,” Kimble noted. “I do believe, however, that the role of the government is not to give a false sense of security, but is to defend and protect individual rights.”

Though Kimble stated her belief in the need for religious exemptions for public school students, as introduced, her proposal did not include them. Those exemptions were added to the bill by a Friday amendment proposed by Del. Todd Kirby, R-Raleigh. While adopted by the House, Kirby’s proposal generated a lengthy debate, a debate which resumed on Monday. 

“Are mandatory childhood vaccinations an overall good for public health?” Kirby asked. “Some like some vaccines, but not others. Some think all of them are great, and some think all are bad. And even when we have data to back up what we have to say, the skeptics will say it’s skewed, and the proponents will say it’s questionable.”

“No matter which side you’re on, reasonable minds can differ,” Kirby continued. “That’s the beautiful thing about being in America – you can have a difference of opinion, and you get to exercise that right.”

Kirby argued that HB 5105 should be passed for the “marginalized” religious minority who have been “openly discriminated against in our schools” by vaccine requirements.

“The question before us is fundamental,” Kirby added. “It is whether or not we hold these truths to be self-evident that we are endowed by our creator – not the pharmaceutical industry or even a medical industry – but our creator..”

Speaking in opposition of the bill was Del. Bob Fehrenbacher, R-Wood, who said, “In state code, there are 10 vaccines that are mandated of children. These apply, with the amendment we adopted on Friday, to all children.”

“Every year there will be somewhere between 17,000 and 20,000 new children born in West Virginia, and their parents will decide whether or not they are to be vaccinated,” Fehrenbacher continued. “We know that today the vast majority, because of state law, those children are vaccinated. You can get a medical exemption. […] It exists.”

“If we look back in time in the 20th Century before vaccinations became widespread, the annual morbidity rate of the 10 diseases that our children require in West Virginia, almost a million children died each year,” Fehrenbacher added. “With the development and widespread adoption of vaccines, deaths by these diseases were reduced by 99.7%. Vaccines work.”

The majority of House members disagreed with Fehrenbacher, and HB 5105 passed by a vote of 57 to 41. The bill will now be reported to the Senate for further consideration. 

RealWV will provide updates regarding the status of HB 5105 as additional information is made available. 

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