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Lawlines: To Vax, or not to Vax

By Wayne Young posted 05-18-2021 14:11

Remember when vaccinations were a health care issue and not a political issue? I do. Actually, vaccinations have been only a health care issue for most of my life. I remember vividly going to the doctor on a regular basis as a child to get my "shots." It was always an adventure because I was very brave and would actually watch the doctor (yes, the doctor!) administer my shots, while my older sister would scream and cry in an unsuccessful effort to avoid her dreaded fate,

Only in the recent divisive political climate that seems to now pervade every aspect of our lives have vaccinations become a matter of politics rather than prevention. No less than five pieces of legislation were proposed during the 2021 session of the Kentucky General Assembly aimed at restricting the authority of government officials, schools  and employers to require vaccinations of citizens, students and employees. In addition, I have heard numerous stories from local districts about resistance to vaccinations by school staff, often venturing far beyond the scope of legal exemptions to vaccines.

Senate Bill 8, one of the five vaccine-related bills, passed the General Assembly. It had an emergency clause, which made it become effective immediately upon passage. It has no impact on students, but school districts may soon begin to find that some employees will seek to invoke its provisions. The bill adds an additional category of exemption from vaccines for adults. 

For many years state and federal law have recognized exemptions from vaccinations based on medical contra-indication, and sincerely held religious beliefs. There are many cases statutes, and policies reflecting these exemptions. The Kentucky legislature has now added "conscientiously held beliefs" as a basis for adults in Kentucky to be exempted from vaccinations. These beliefs would be distinct from religious objections, and could include such things as fear that the vaccination is dangerous, or the practice of holistic medicine which excludes use of vaccinations. Quite frankly, nearly any reason one could think of not to receive a vaccine ("It hurts!") would likely be considered a "conscientiously held belief." School district leaders should spread awareness of this new provision, and have internal conversations regarding how the district will address these situations when they arise.