A bill filed in the Illinois state Senate last week aims to remove the option for parents to opt out of vaccinating their children on religious grounds. The legislation would also do away with most medical exemptions for vaccines required to attend schools in the state.
In addition, the bill would allow minors age 14 and older to get a vaccine, "regardless of whether the minor's parent or guardian consents."
The legislation was filed last Thursday by Democrat Heather A. Steans, who represents a Senate district encompassing much of Chicago. If the bill passes, it would go into effect on July 1, 2022.
"Earlier this month I filed Senate Bill 3668, which takes action to fight infectious disease by increasing the rate of vaccination in Illinois," Steans wrote on Facebook on Thursday. "SB 3668 ends the religious exemption for vaccination in Illinois, strengthens our mechanism for determining medical exemptions, and empowers those aged 14 and up to choose to vaccinate."
The legislation has the backing of the Illinois Department of Public Health, according to spokeswoman Melaney Arnold, the Chicago Tribune reports. The department hopes the bill will increase vaccination rates in the Prairie State "and reduce the risk of severe illness among our most vulnerable populations," according to the outlet.
Opponents of the bill vehemently disagree with the proposed changes. The Illinois Vaccine Awareness Coalition, a group which regularly advocates against the use of vaccines, posted a call to oppose the bill on its website.
"Please WITHDRAW SB3668 – this bill is unnecessary and discriminatory," the group wrote as an example of what to say to the bill's sponsor. "Vaccine exemptions are not the problem, schools failing to collect and submit vaccine record paperwork is the problem...Please focus on the serious record keeping issue and don't remove religious and parental rights based on misrepresented immunization levels."
Steans' bill isn't the only vaccine-centered legislation to be filed in recent weeks in Illinois.
A bill filed in the Illinois House earlier this month would require students to get the human papillomavirus (HPV) vaccination when they enter the sixth grade. It would also require that students complete the series of HPV vaccinations by the time they enter the ninth grade.
Currently,in the U.S. do not allow non-medical exemptions for vaccines: New York, California, Mississippi, West Virginia and Maine.