Tennessee bill would expand coronavirus vaccine exemptions

Bobbie Pendleton prepares to give a flu shot in the morning at a drive-thru flu clinic at Bristol Motor Speedway, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, in Bristol, Tenn. (David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP)
Bobbie Pendleton prepares to give a flu shot in the morning at a drive-thru flu clinic at Bristol Motor Speedway, Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020, in Bristol, Tenn. (David Crigger/Bristol Herald Courier via AP)

The bill also would give parents the option to cite “right of conscience” as a reason not to immunize their children.

Posted: Nov 22, 2020 6:03 PM

Tennessee would no longer prohibit parents from refusing vaccinations of their children under a proposal that’s been filed as COVID-19 cases continue to rise ahead of the GOP-dominant Statehouse’s upcoming legislative session.

Tennessee law currently allows parents to refuse to immunize their children as long as the state is “in the absence of an epidemic or immediate threat of an epidemic.” Other sections of Tennessee statute allow parents to deny immunizations of their kids “except where the medical examination, immunization or treatment is necessary for the protection of the health or safety of others.”

These exceptions would be removed according to the legislation, allowing parents to opt out of school-required vaccinations during the coronavirus pandemic. The bill also would give parents the option to cite “right of conscience” as a reason not to immunize their children.

Rep. Jay Reedy, a Republican from Erin, and Sen. Mark Pody, a Republican from Lebanon, are the lead sponsors of the legislation. They introduced the bill earlier this week.

“I do believe that if you have a religious exemption, then we the government should not shut that option down,” Reedy told The Associated Press in a phone interview Friday.

“It’s never happened before, will it happen in the future? It’s all in the air,” he said.

Reedy added that he began working on the legislation earlier this year after being contacted by Gary Humble, executive director of Tennessee Stands — a group that has challenged local and state restrictions put in place over the past few months to curb the spread of COVID-19.

“It may be that in a few months there won’t really be a fear that government can override your religious exemptions,” Reedy said, noting it’s likely the legislation will be amended should it pass the Tennessee Statehouse.

Reedy said he was open to getting a coronavirus vaccination and was intending to get a flu shot as well.

Lawmakers won’t consider taking up the proposal until the General Assembly kicks off its 2021 session in January.

In the interim, the state’s top health officials are working on developing a distribution plan once a coronavirus vaccine is available. The health department has said first responders will be the state’s top priority during the vaccine’s initial distribution phases, with health care workers being the next priority.

At the end of the 2019-20 school year, 95% of Tennessee kindergarteners were reported to be fully immunized, according to the health department’s latest annual report.

However, the report said there’s been a noticeable uptick in the number of families using the religious exemption. The report hypothesized families were likely using that exemption “in lieu of a personal philosophical exemption,” even though doing so could result in a penalty of perjury. Students in private schools particularly saw a higher use of the religious exemption.

Meanwhile, the University of Tennessee on Friday adopted a new immunization rule that allows the school to require students to have both the flu and coronavirus vaccinations. The rule will exempt students who enrolled only online and are not participating in in-person learning, and also will allow for medical or religious exemptions.

With a COVID-19 vaccine drawing closer, public health officials across the country are gearing up for the biggest vaccination effort in U.S. history — a monumental undertaking that must distribute hundreds of millions of doses, prioritize who’s first in line and ensure that people who get the initial shot return for the necessary second one.

The push could begin as early as next month, when federal officials say the first vaccine may be authorized for emergency use and immediately deployed to high-risk groups, such as health care workers.

Potential vaccines are still in the trial phase and have not been approved. They must be safe and effective before approval for use by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

Late Friday, the Shelby County Health Department issued an order requiring restaurants to limit occupancy to 50% and close at 10 p.m. rather than midnight. Schools are strongly encouraged to suspend all school-related, close-contact sports. And gym patrons and employees must wear facial coverings at all times, except when in the swimming pool or shower, the health department said.

___

Adrian Sainz contributed to this report from Memphis, Tennessee.

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Alabama Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 540083

Reported Deaths: 11038
CountyCasesDeaths
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Mobile41283809
Madison35157506
Tuscaloosa25925455
Shelby25302249
Montgomery24723593
Baldwin21411310
Lee15993172
Calhoun14574319
Morgan14425280
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Houston10648282
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Walker7261278
Autauga7005108
Jackson6840112
Blount6773139
Colbert6322135
Coffee5581118
Dale4877113
Russell445738
Chilton4373113
Franklin426382
Covington4138118
Tallapoosa4044153
Escambia394877
Chambers3596123
Dallas3569153
Clarke351561
Marion3140101
Pike312077
Lawrence303098
Winston275873
Bibb264764
Geneva254178
Marengo249865
Pickens234862
Barbour232056
Hale224078
Butler219169
Fayette212862
Henry189943
Cherokee184845
Randolph182542
Monroe178141
Washington167839
Macon161350
Clay157257
Crenshaw153557
Cleburne149641
Lamar143336
Lowndes140653
Wilcox127430
Bullock123242
Conecuh110829
Coosa109228
Perry107826
Sumter105032
Greene92634
Choctaw61024
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Tennessee Coronavirus Cases

Cases: 857055

Reported Deaths: 12312
CountyCasesDeaths
Shelby964521629
Davidson89674942
Knox51116636
Hamilton44570496
Rutherford43212437
Williamson28116217
Sumner24135349
Montgomery20402227
Wilson18907236
Out of TN1822399
Sullivan16952298
Unassigned16918134
Blount15559196
Bradley15100151
Washington14691245
Maury13545172
Sevier13451175
Putnam11437175
Madison11281241
Robertson9793132
Anderson8795171
Hamblen8632173
Greene7928156
Tipton7397104
Coffee6922123
Dickson6854113
Cumberland6769133
Carter6662158
Gibson6542146
McMinn654198
Bedford6522128
Roane6318105
Jefferson6244125
Loudon616469
Hawkins6161107
Lawrence598491
Monroe587596
Warren555581
Dyer5440106
Franklin516490
Fayette511878
Cheatham457856
Obion455096
Cocke452499
Lincoln437163
Rhea435775
Marshall420658
Campbell417463
Weakley416365
Giles4010100
Henderson380776
White368170
Carroll363483
Macon363178
Hardin358968
Hardeman353764
Henry320676
Lauderdale320244
Claiborne318873
Scott315245
Marion312847
Overton302561
Wayne297034
Hickman284746
McNairy284254
DeKalb280754
Smith278539
Haywood271562
Grainger263550
Morgan251339
Trousdale250622
Fentress243047
Johnson241939
Bledsoe215811
Chester215451
Polk208725
Unicoi204549
Crockett203549
Cannon192831
Union192234
Humphreys181528
Grundy179534
Sequatchie171829
Lake170526
Benton167340
Decatur159339
Lewis158426
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Clay110330
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Perry107228
Moore101717
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Pickett75924
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