February 24, 2010

Vaccine Equity Bill Speeds toward Enactment

Virginia will soon have a law requiring the state Department of Health to prepare a vaccination plan for public health emergencies that treats all children equitably, regardless of how they are educated.

As the H1N1 flu swept the globe last fall, some Virginia homeschool parents were told, “I’m sorry; we can’t give your child a vaccination. We are saving it for public school children.” Even private school children were pushed to the back of the line.

State Delegate David L. Englin’s family participated in a soccer team that included private school children. The parents of these children reported the same message to him: public schoolchildren were getting vaccine while others were being turned down.

He filed a bill to redress the issue, House Bill 270. While the bill required the state Department of Health to have a plan to vaccinate all children regardless of their education during a public health emergency, it did not require that all groups be treated equally. The bill’s original weak language would have allowed the Department to continue discriminating among groups of children.

HSLDA Senior Counsel Scott Woodruff promptly communicated with Delegate Englin’s office. After much discussion, the delegate accepted Woodruff’s proposal to amend the bill to forbid the Department’s plan from giving a preference to one group of children over another. Thus amended, the bill breezed out of subcommittee, moved through House committee without a snag, and proceeded to near-unanimous approval in the full House, and finally unanimous approval in the Senate.

Barring something totally unforeseen, Virginia will soon be the first state in the nation (to our knowledge) to require that homeschooled children be treated fairly when there is a public health emergency and vaccine is in limited supply.

Some parents prefer to limit the vaccinations their children receive, or omit them altogether. These parents are protected under HB 270 because the bill does not diminish a parent’s right to turn down a vaccination for a child. But for the parents who believe that vaccination is desirable, HB 270 gives reason to hope that the disgraceful discrimination of the past will not be repeated.