Justice sides with medical experts, vetoes vaccine exemption bill

By Stephen Baldwin & Matthew Young, RealWV

On the final night of the legislative session, Senator Mike Maroney urged his colleagues to defeat HB5105. The bill provided exemptions to the state’s compulsory vaccination requirement for schoolchildren. Maroney called it an “embarrassment” that such a bill would even be considered. 

Despite Maroney’s warning, the bill passed the Senate by a vote of 18 to 12. Several hours later, it passed the House of Delegates by a vote of 70 to 29. 

But on Wednesday, Governor Jim Justice sided with Maroney, vetoing the bill. 

”We are way ahead of the pack in protecting our children from preventable diseases like measles. In this matter, I defer to our licensed medical professionals, who have overwhelmingly said this bill could and likely would result in reduced immunity and harm to WV’s kids,” Justice said.

”Our kids are our future. They are our most important resource, and I will protect them with everything I have,” he added.

Medical experts and family advocates pushed for this veto

Numerous medical and family groups urged Justice to veto the bill over the last week. 

“It is important to protect our kids and communities from highly contagious and untreatable diseases” said Meagan Moses, President of the West Virginia Women’s Alliance. “Other states that have carved ot exceptions…have recently seen dangerous outbreaks.”

“While we respect and honor freedom, we believe young children and vulnerable populations deserve to be free of these life threatening and debilitating diseases,” Moses continued. “Our current law is an exemplary model that other states are moving towards.”

Dr. Lisa Costello, WVU Medicine, testified about the bill before the Senate Health Committee last month. Senators asked her last month if she thought the bill put children in harm’s way?

 “It does,” she replied. “Immunizations works. What makes it work is high rates of immunizations around us…Herd immunity means that we rely on those around us to keep diseases out.”

As reported by Brad McElhinny of WVMetronews earlier this week, Dr. Clay Marsh joined the chorus of opposition to the bill, saying, “Requiring immunizations with only medical exceptions protect our children and our communities against illnesses like measles, rubella, hepatitis, chickenpox, mumps, polio and mumps. Although border states have had measles outbreaks recently, we have not, because of our immunization requirements. We have shared this with Gov. Justice, as have other groups that focus on the healthcare and health of our state.”

Is the veto subject to an override?

With the governor’s veto today, HB5105 is officially extinct. According to law, the legislature may only override a bill’s veto while in session. Session adjourned several weeks ago. 

A special session is looming, and the governor could choose to add a vaccine bill to the agenda. That seems unlikely since he vetoed this one. 

Legislators may also call themselves into special session with a ⅗ margin, but that option is rarely if ever used.

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