An Act Relative to Vaccinations and Public Health

Joint Committee on Public Health 

On behalf of our member hospitals and health systems, physician organizations, and allied health care providers, the Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association (MHA) appreciates the opportunity to offer comments in strong support of HB3999, An Act relative to vaccinations and public health. This legislation is an important measure to promote the health of the public and ensure the wellbeing of our patients that are unable to receive vaccinations.

Our statewide 95% vaccination rate is certainly impressive and is the number needed to maintain “herd immunity,” or community resistance to the spread of a contagious disease that results if a proportion of the population has been vaccinated. However, there are still various pockets of the commonwealth that struggle with noticeably high vaccine rejection numbers, endangering the health of immuno-compromised patients with a medical exemption and that of children too young to be inoculated. Use of the religious exemption to refuse vaccinations has risen significantly in recent years, at a level that does not appear to mirror expanded religious practice by Massachusetts residents. No major religion formally opposes vaccines. However, more than 75% of current vaccination exemptions in Massachusetts cite religious reasons. Over the last 30 years, use of the religious exemption for children in the commonwealth has grown by 500%.

Rampant misinformation surrounding the importance, safety and efficacy of vaccines has led to communicable disease outbreaks across the nation, and the world. Measles, which is highly contagious and had been declared eradicated in the U.S. in 2000 by the World Health Organization, has been confirmed this year in 1,276 individual cases across 31 states. This is the greatest number of reported instances in America since 1992. While many measles cases are due to international travelers entering the country, the Centers for Disease Control reports steady annual increases in unvaccinated children due to the refusal of the parents to inoculate. Seventy-five percent of this year’s cases were due to a large-scale outbreak in New York State, and the majority of infections were among patients that had not been vaccinated against the disease. California is still grappling to regain its herd immunity designation in the aftermath of a 2014 Disneyland measles outbreak. In October, a patient in Boston was diagnosed with measles, the first reported instance in the city since 2013 but the third reported case in the commonwealth this year.

MHA strongly endorses HB3999, which would eliminate the religious exemption for school-age children. Five other states have done this, including Mississippi, West Virginia, Maine, and, notably, California and New York. We support all efforts – legislative or otherwise – to improve rates, dispel dangerous misinformation about vaccines, and cure those regions in the commonwealth with higher proportions of unvaccinated citizens that ultimately prove dangerous to patients whose lives depend on herd-immunity. We do not want to wait for a major outbreak to occur in Massachusetts in order to take action.

Thank you for the opportunity to offer testimony on this important matter. If you have any questions regarding this testimony or require further information, please contact Emily Dulong, MHA’s Senior Director of Strategy & Government Advocacy, at (781) 262-6025 or edulong@mhalink.org.