Abstaining from the vote on eliminating the parental exemption from our mandatory vaccination law is not a decision I made lightly. My colleagues and I chose this in order to make a statement which we all felt was important to make. I don’t oppose eliminating the parental exemption to our mandatory vaccination law for students, when needed, but there has got to be a very good reason to do so, because the consequences are that some children would be barred from attending school.
Mandatory vaccination in public schools has been in place in NB since 1982, and I wholeheartedly support it. I am proud that we are one of only two provinces with this kind of legislation. After 38 years with the parental exemption, only 1% of students are exempted – and this includes children who cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons. I support effective vaccination programs. I trust the science behind vaccines, their effectiveness in preventing disease, and believe that everyone should get vaccinated if they can.
I support the idea of the bill, but not its implementation. No public health rationale was provided for removing the exemption at this time, and our Chief Medical Officer of Health told the Legislature’s Law Amendments Committee that she does not know if it is necessary to eliminate it. I proposed an amendment that represented a good compromise, but it was rejected. The Minister of Education said he wants to eliminate the exemption to send a message to the conspiracy theorists and anti-vaccine movement, and to avoid the possibility of large numbers of parents using it sometime in the future, but the consequences of doing so now would be to unnecessarily deny a quality public education to children. This should only be done if the greater good requires it.
By all means, we should make it simple to eliminate the parental exemption, in the event that vaccination rates drop, posing a risk to the health of students in our school system. So we should have it as a tool in our public health toolbox, but it should be used on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health, so we do not unnecessarily bar children from our public school system and deny them access to quality public education. I will gladly support a bill that enables the Minister of Health or the Minister of Education to eliminate the exemption when needed to protect the public health of students, on the advice of the Chief Medical Officer of Health.