More than 400 people signed up to testify on vaccine-related legislation, Massachusetts Public Health Committee Co-Chair Rep. Marjorie Decker said Monday morning as she kicked off the virtual hearing on bills both involving COVID-19 immunization and others that were proposed before the pandemic arrived in Massachusetts.
The agenda includes a Rep. Andy Vargas bill (H 2411) that would remove the current religious exemption for vaccines that are required for public schools, while leaving the medical exemption in place, and bills (H 2271, S 1517) from Rep. Paul Donato and Sen. Becca Rausch that seek to standardize immunization requirements and exemption processes, fill gaps in vaccine rate data, and boost outreach efforts.
Rausch described the state's current youth immunization law as "Swiss cheese at best" and said its "holes have led to significant confusion, widely disparate implementation and serious public health gaps that threaten the health and safety of communities all across the commonwealth."
Vargas also co-filed the Donato/Rausch bill, which supporters call the Community Immunity Act, and he said both bills seek to "address the high rates of vaccine exemptions in our state." He said all but one county in Massachusetts has one or more schools where herd immunity for measles has not been met.
If everyone who signed up testifies, Decker said, the committee would hear about 20 hours of comments.
As Rausch replied to a question from committee member Sen. Susan Moran, someone chimed in with "I thought this was a short answer," prompting Decker to advise participants that they will be removed from the videoconference platform if they interrupt testimony.