Fact-checking a debate over controversial immunization legislation

Fact-checking a debate over controversial immunization legislation
The Virginia Senate. (Source: Ned Oliver/Virginia Mercury)

Legislation to update Virginia’s vaccination requirements for schoolchildren is on its way to the governor’s desk after the House voted 54-44 to approve a Senate-amended version of the bill.

The final version adds four new vaccines to the state’s immunization schedule, which hasn’t been updated since 2008. Meningitis, hepatitis A, and rotavirus vaccines are now required for all public and private school students, as are human papillomavirus vaccines for boys (girls were already required to be vaccinated against the disease).

The bill, described as a hard-fought compromise by Sen. Siobhan Dunnavant, R-Henrico, retains religious and medical exemptions while allowing the Virginia Department of Health to update the state’s immunization schedule according to medical best practices.

It also includes a separate exemption for the HPV vaccine, which parents can refuse after reviewing educational materials on the link between HPV and cervical cancer.

The bill passed the Senate Tuesday after nearly an hour of passionate floor debate on both sides of the issue. Dunnavant, a practicing OB-GYN, stood against many of her Republican colleagues in supporting the bill. She was also put in the uncomfortable position of refuting some of their arguments against vaccinations, which occasionally contradicted medical science.

The Virginia Mercury fact-checked four of the biggest claims with Dr. Kelly Goode, a vaccines expert and director of the community-based residency program at the Virginia Commonwealth University School of Pharmacy.

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The Virginia Mercury is a nonpartisan, nonprofit news organization covering Virginia government and policy.