Vaccine Exemption – A choice between State Mandates Public Health versus Personal Body Choice and Educational Access 

May 13, 2021

By: State Senator Tony Hwang

As appeared in the CT Post.

The Connecticut General Assembly Senate voted and passed HB 6423 which will require CT residents to be vaccinated in order to participate in certain activities, including K-12 and Higher Education Institutions, public or private, or organized child care with an amended change to grandfather students that are currently enrolled in Kindergarten up through 12th grade.

As the co-ranking leader on the Public Health Committee with cognizance on this issue, I was extremely disappointed in the legislative process as I believe it was neither transparent nor collaborative.  

There are many who opposed this bill and believed in a different approach and they were neither heard nor respected as the committee considered this bill. The public hearing was closed at the 24 hour mark and nearly 1,800 people were denied the opportunity to personally testify. The subject of removing the vaccine religious exemption generated over 3,500 pieces of written testimony from both sides of the debate. 

Also, the unusual manner in which the Democratic party leaders chose to send identical bills to the state house and senate simultaneously speaks to the extreme measures they will take to pass this measure to remove the religious exemption void of proper public or minority party input. 

Opinions for or against these issues have come before the Public Health committee for a number of years as similar measures have been introduced. No matter the year or the challenging Covid-affected Zoom video public hearing process, every person has a position that should be heard and respected. 

The Covid-19 pandemic and concerns for public safety on infection has created a heightened sense of medically urgent emergency for this mandate debate.  The bill under consideration does not address the Covid-19 vaccine, instead it impacts the 70+ vaccine shots that students are required to take during their K-12 education. This bill’s vaccine medical emergency mandate is significantly undermined by the current language to “grandfather” unvaccinated and “noncompliant” students and keep them in school.  Why pass this mandate with undermining “grandfather” provisions and ignoring the voices of the nearly 5,000 people who protested outside the capitol, other than exerting the overriding power of government control over people’s personal body rights.

My no vote was not lightly cast and is not a statement to minimize the seriousness of this public health crisis we have been coping with for the past year but rather to voice my deep concern with an overreaching state mandate over personal body and parental choice.  We should strive to raise awareness and vaccination participation through education and outreach, not by statutory mandates and threats to take away academic and social emotional interaction of children and families.

As the Co-Chair of the bipartisan CT General Assembly Bioscience Caucus, I have been a relentless advocate for the science and safety of pharmaceutical innovations for public and personal health.  I absolutely believe and trust in the research and science behind the Covid-19 vaccine and I am grateful for the incredible contributions from Connecticut’s own bioscience companies who are world leaders in developing, producing and distributing the vaccine in an expedited time frame. I have received both doses of the Pfizer vaccine myself.

My personal belief in getting myself and my family members vaccinated is exactly that – personal.  I respect that we as legislators and state government should not have the right to dictate and override the personal choice of CT residents and parents.

The mischaracterization and social media proliferation attacks on anyone who oppose this bill, rampantly identifying them as dangerous and callous “anti vaxxers” – this social smearing has already hit cyberspace. I find it unfortunate and an injustice to the merits of this public health policy debate as well as an example of the disappointing state of our political and policy discourse.  Today in Connecticut, you cannot disagree with the status quo on these public policy issues dictated by one party Democratic rule and potentially risk being demonized and scurrilously defamed.

I have always maintained the principle of protecting personal body choice freedoms.  I support a woman’s right of choice.  I have supported the right of an individual with terminal illness to choose dignity in death.  Those principles have guided me to support a parent’s and an individual’s right to refuse injection of pharmaceutical products, for whatever reason, into their bodies.

Ultimately, state authorities and powers should not override personal and religious beliefs, despite the noble and well intended idea of greater public health.  A clear, bright line needs to be drawn and respected.

There are state and federal constitutional protections for these rights. The Connecticut State Constitution gives the unquestionable right to every child that they have access to a free public education. The United States Constitution also notes in the Fourth Amendment that each citizen is free in their own body, thus should not be forced to be vaccinated or forced to disclose their vaccination status.

I firmly believe that Connecticut residents and families should not have the state government making decisions as to what goes into their bodies.

Furthermore, people should not have to fear that they will have to choose between their personal and religious beliefs against access to important life necessities and state Constitution rights like access to a public education.

While the rejecting vote in the Senate was made along mostly party lines, with 2 Democratic Senators joining all Republican Senators, I maintain that this particular issue is neither Republican or Democrat. It is my hope that an open discussion can continue on both bills in both chambers, inclusive of feedback from all stakeholders as we move forward.