The General Assembly’s Joint Commission on Health Care on Wednesday recommended making no changes to the state’s regulations on possible exemptions, including religious reasons, for otherwise-mandatory school vaccinations.
The decision came after the commission received more than 700 comments on the subject, the majority of which were in favor of taking no action.
The issue was brought before the commission at the bequest of Dels. Eileen Filler-Corn, D-Fairfax, and Christopher P. Stolle, R-Virginia Beach, who introduced a bill during the most recent General Assembly session that would have removed religious exemptions as a valid reason not to have a child vaccinated.
Filler-Corn and Stolle struck the bill and requested the commission research whether non-medical exemptions should be tightened.
The bill received a great deal of attention from those against mandatory vaccinations, most of whom wore red to Wednesday’s meeting, which was held at the General Assembly building in downtown Richmond. Some in red wore T-shirts and hats supporting President-elect Donald Trump.
Most brought their children with them, and one young boy held a sign that said: “Vote ‘No’ to Mandatory Vaccines.” When the commission recommended taking no action, the crowd cheered.
The commission was created in 1992 with the purpose of recommending and researching medical decisions to ensure Virginia adopts “the most cost-effective and efficacious” health care policies, according to the state code.
The body does not make final decisions on legislation, and its decisions are considered recommendations that the General Assembly will take into account during its next session.
Among those in favor of making no changes to immunization exclusions was the Virginia Department of Health, which stated that “the low exemption rates and relatively high vaccine coverage rates and low morbidity from vaccine preventable diseases” made taking no action on the issue an acceptable option, according to commission documents.
On the other side, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommended the commission remove the religious exemption option. Earlier this year, the group updated its official policy to recommend states remove non-medical immunization exemptions.
Also on Wednesday, the commission recommended the Department of Health create a page on its website that explains palliative care.
Palliative care is meant for those with severe illnesses to ease their pain and symptoms. It is not hospice care, though the two terms are sometimes confused, the commission’s staff explained during a presentation.
The commission’s staff found that the information on one website may not match the information on another, and commission members agreed that one definitive explanation of palliative care would be beneficial to Virginians.
Also discussed during Wednesday’s meeting was another option to provide the Department of Health with $120,506 to create a Palliative Care and Quality of Life Advisory Council, in addition to a website.
But commission members seemed hesitant to recommend an option that included additional funding.
Virginia lawmakers will have to close a $654 million budget shortfall in the next fiscal year.
“Who will carry the budget amendment?” commission member Del. John M. O’Bannon III, R-Henrico, asked, and his comment was met with laughs from other members of the commission.