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New Jersey Bill Advances To Change Vaccine Exemption For Students

TRENTON, N.J. (CBSNewYork/AP) - New Jersey might change a religious exemption that has allowed nearly 9,000 students to avoid vaccinations in the 2013-14 school year.

A state Senate committee on Monday approved a bill to tighten the rules that Sen. Joseph Vitale says are too easy for parents to use religion as an excuse.

Sonia Da Silva has three children and won't let them get vaccinated based on her religious beliefs.

"G-d made us in his image, our bodies are a temple that we are not to desecrate. So by putting in all those foreign substances like human DNA or animal DNA we are desecrating the temple," she told CBS2's Christine Sloan.

Parents currently must submit a letter saying the vaccines violate their religion.

Under the new rules, a parent would have to submit a notarized letter explaining how the vaccine would violate the nature of their religious tenant or practice. They also would have to submit a letter from a doctor that they received counseling about the risks and benefits of vaccinations.

"It's going to open up to a lot of religious persecution because who is going to decide if my religious beliefs are sincere or not?" Da Silva said.

Amanda Villanar's daughter Laila is on the autistic spectrum. Some organizations, like NJ Coalition for Parental Choice, link ingredients in vaccines to autism, but new studies dispute that.

Villanar said vaccines are necessary.

"From everything that I have seen, I think the science is very clear that we should vaccinate our children and we are probably doing more harm than good by not," Villanar said.

The bill was introduced in January as a measles outbreak swept across the nation, including two confirmed cases in New Jersey.

CBS2 attempted to obtain a comment from Gov. Chris Christie at Town Hall however he did not respond.

Christie would have to approve the bill that first heads to the full Senate.

In the past, Christie has given two different positions on vaccinations, Sloan reported. He once said parents should have a choice, then added vaccines are a must to prevent the measles outbreak.

(TM and © Copyright 2015 CBS Radio Inc. and its relevant subsidiaries. CBS RADIO and EYE Logo TM and Copyright 2014 CBS Broadcasting Inc. Used under license. All Rights Reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed. The Associated Press contributed to this report.)

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