The West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources' new requirement of certain vaccines for students in seventh and 12th grades has sparked some controversy throughout the state and locally.
The policy stipulates that seventh-graders receive a Tdap vaccine booster and a dose of the meningococcal vaccine, while seniors get a single dose of Tdap and a booster dose of the meningococcal vaccine if the first dose was given before the age of 16. However, there is an exception, and that is if the student receives a letter from his or her doctor stating that the vaccination cannot be administered for a medical reason. Medical is the key word here.
This week, Huttonsville resident Phil Hudok approached the Randolph County Board of Education saying his daughter, who is in her senior year at Pickens High School, would not receive the vaccine because of religious convictions. A local physician had submitted a letter to the school system stating that rationale.
However, that argument doesn't hold up in West Virginia or Mississippi - the only two states that do not allow a religious exemption for vaccines. The DHHR says simply this: no immunization without medical reason equals no admission to school.
Randolph County isn't the only school system in West Virginia to hear parents raise issue. In Kanawha County, six families have filed suit claiming the DHHR has overstepped its boundaries by enacting the requirement. After a round with the Supreme Court, the families' attorney has asked the Kanawha County Circuit Court for a temporary restraining order. A decision on that is expected to take at least 30 days. The West Virginia Board of Education is backing the DHHR.
The local school boards shouldn't be the target of criticism. They have to follow the rule.
Meanwhile, the students are holding steadfast to their beliefs. They're also losing valuable time in the classroom.
Is the requirement fair, especially in the case of religious convictions? Well, that's an issue for a lengthy debate and it's likely we'll be hearing plenty of opinions in the coming weeks.
It seems a solution by the state and the courts is needed sooner, rather than later. Our students need to remain healthy. They also need an education.