It would be more difficult for New Jersey parents to get their children exempted from mandatory vaccines based on religious grounds if a new bill introduced Thursday becomes law.

Bill sponsor Assemblyman Herb Conaway, D-Burlington, who is also a licensed physician, brought forth the legislation at an Assembly Health and Senior Services Committee hearing packed with families and people opposing proposed tighter restrictions on religious exemption.

After several hours of testimony from those who supported and opposed the bill, the committee approved the measure that would require parents to provide several forms of proof as to why their children should qualify for a religious exemption to vaccines.

Conaway, who also chairs the health committee, said in a statement exemptions must be limited to do what is best for the overall public health.

“We’ve heard too many people playing politics with vaccinations, despite vaccinations having long been proven as a safe and effective means of controlling and eliminating deadly illnesses plaguing humankind,” he said.

New Jersey currently allows religious and medical exemptions from childhood vaccine requirements for infectious diseases such as mumps, measles, rubella and chickenpox that are mandatory for kids to attend daycare or child care, and public and private schools.

The number of religious exemptions among children in New Jersey has climbed steadily for years. The state Department of Health reported that 10,407 children, or 2 percent of the state’s school population, had religious vaccination exemptions in the 2016-17 school year.

That’s more than double the 3,865 religious exemptions among children in pre-kindergarten through sixth grade in the 2009-10 school year, according to state data.

The proposed bill would continue to allow for medical exemptions, which included about 1,297 children last school year, with a written statement by a licensed physician that says vaccines should not be administered to a child for medical reasons.

For parents or guardians who apply for exemption for religious reasons, the bill states they would have to provide a notarized written statement, an explanation of how vaccination would violate their religious practices or tenets and information that indicates religious practice “is consistently held by the person.”

Other documentation they would have to provide would include a statement that the parent or guardian understands the risks and benefits of vaccination to the student and to public health and a signed statement from a New Jersey physician that confirms counseling on those risks and benefits.

People opposing similar mandatory vaccination legislation in the past have said parents should have the right to chose which, if any, vaccines their children get. Others have said they believe the vaccines cause more harm than good and that there is a lack of research proving otherwise.

This article originally appeared on the Press of Atlantic City.

Nicole Leonard

Press of Atlantic City

Nicole Leonard is a staff writer for the Press of Atlantic City. She previously interned and reported for Boston.com, The Asbury Park Press, The Boston Globe.

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