Connecticut’s kindergarteners have increasingly claimed non-medical exemptions from vaccines due to religion, philosophy and personal belief since 2012, with the exception of a small decline last year. Legislators in Connecticut have now been tasked with reviewing a bill that would restrict unvaccinated children, due to religious or personal belief, from attending public or private school. To protect individual health, children would still be able to claim the medical exemption.
Earlier this semester two members of the Department of Public Policy (DPP) network published a Op-Ed in the CT Mirror about “Three fallacies and the truth about vaccines.” DPP Professor Kerri Raissian and current MPA Fellow Jody Terranova met in early 2020 at a public hearing about vaccine exemptions. Through their involvement with Vaccinate Your Family, a nonprofit based in Washington D.C., Dr. Terranova reached out to Professor Raissian about legislation. They then started tracking developments and sharing information together. This semester Dr. Terranova is taking Professor Raissian’s Child and Family Policy course.
After listening to a recent testimony at the Public Health Committee earlier this year, Professor Raissian was alarmed by many of the things she heard as well as the amount of misinformation. She explains, “As a public policy professor, I want policy to be based in fact. The day after the hearing, I outlined an op-ed. I realized some of the content needed medical expertise, and so I reached out to Jody to collaborate. We edited and finished the op-ed together!” The duo selected their fallacies based on how frequently the points of misinformation had been mentioned in the most recent hearing and the last two years.
Both Dr. Terranova and Professor Raissian have emphasized the importance of public education when it comes to legislation. They also acknowledge the difficulty when individuals cannot easily identify a direct connection to their daily life, even if one exists. Those impacted by policy changes, both for and against, must be heard by legislators, including the experts.
In 2020, Professor Raissian published two additional Op-Eds related to vaccines entitled “Removing religious exemption is good policy” and “Don’t delay getting currently available vaccines for you and your children” in the CT Mirror. Her son Rory contracted chickenpox before he could be vaccinated in 2019. She testified in favor of the bill to remove the exemption in 2020 and earlier this year.
Dr. Terranova notes that eliminating non-medical exemptions protects children like Rory who cannot yet be vaccinated due to age, as well as those who are immunocompromised or allergic to the vaccinations. In February she also gave a media interview. Her MPA education is currently helping her to see the administrative side of policy. She explains, “…with removing non-medical exemptions, I have a better appreciation and understanding of the impact it will have on our immunization program, and the need to consider who will monitor for compliance, how we will ensure medical exemptions are valid and not being misused, how the Department of Public Health and the Department of Education may interface.”
When it comes to the COVID-19 vaccine, education needs to be proactive. Dr. Terranova says, “The medical community has seen the damage that misinformation has done – eroding trust in science – and is being more proactive than I have ever seen in reaching out, educating, combating misinformation and really going on the offensive.” She currently serves as the immunization advocate for the CT Chapter of American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and is on the Scientific Subcommittee of the Governor’s COVID-19 Vaccine Advisory Group.