Story by Mike Nolting, MetroNews

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — Gov. Jim Justice has until Wednesday to make a decision on the vaccination exemption bill.

The bill, HB 5105, would allow private and parochial schools to set their own vaccination policies. Justice has heard from both groups that want him to sign the bill and those who want him to veto it.

Tom Bloom

Monongalia County Commissioner and retired school counselor Tom Bloom said if the measure becomes law, it will endanger thousands of students and families in Monongalia County.

“The legislature is turning the clock back nearly 100 years in immunization protection for our children,” Bloom said. “This is a disaster about to happen that will open the door for more diseases.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has reported 60 measles cases so far in 2024. The total is more than the total number of cases reported last and some of the reports are from neighboring states Ohio. Pennsylvania and Virginia.

Immediate Past President of the West Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics on Vaccinations, Dr. Lisa Costello, said measles is highly contagious and represents one of the most important examples why the state needs to maintain a strong vaccination program.

Dr. Lisa Costello

“Measles doesn’t care if you go to private or parochial schools,” Costello said. “It does not differentiate, so that’s why it’s important for children to have protection.”

Bloom said he has very clear memories of when communities hoped for a vaccine to free them from the threat of serious illness or death.

“The individuals who are making this decision were not around when my friends and neighbors were in the Iron Lung,” Bloom said. “We are going back to that; we are going backwards.”

Kanawha County Delegate Chris Pritt, one of the bill’s sponsors, advocated for the bill’s signing during an appearance last week on MetroNews “Talkline.”

Chris Pritt

He added it’s only a small part of the overall population that will be impacted.

“I don’t think that we’re going to face any kind of public health crisis as a result of this,” Pritt said.

Costello said there are exceptions, but a strong vaccination program is also designed to keep those covered by the exemption safe as well. Vaccination programs keep the overall presence of the disease in the population low, decreasing the odds of infection for all, including the most vulnerable. She used the example of a young person battling childhood cancer.

“In those conditions, they cannot get immunizations because their body is not going to mount the proper response,” Costello said. “That’s why having high immunization rates in the community can help protect that child because we can help keep those diseases out.”