In light of the recent resurgence of measles and other preventable diseases in many areas of the United States, a number of Episcopal schools — particularly preschools — have reached out to NAES regarding immunization policies, especially in states which provide for a religious exemption.
At its June 10-13, 2019 meeting, the Executive Council of General Convention passed the following resolutions pertaining to the issue of vaccination. The role of the Executive Council is to “oversee the execution of the program and policies adopted by the General Convention” and thus reflects the formal position of The Episcopal Church on this topic.
These particular resolutions can be summarized into three key points:
- The Episcopal Church does not recognize a valid claim of theological or religious exemption from vaccination for its members.
- The Church urges members to adhere to science-based medical practices and to seek and follow the guidance of trained medical professionals.
- Organizations, including schools, should strive to provide access to immunizations to all families, especially to those who cannot afford them.
As always, NAES also urges all Episcopal schools to review relevant state and local laws and regulations related to this matter. Full text of the resolutions is as follows. Significant portions are highlighted in bold.
- MB011 – Express grave concern and sorrow for the recent rise in easily preventable diseases due to anti-vaccination movements which have harmed thousands of children and adults; condemn the continued and intentional spreading of fraudulent research that suggested vaccines might cause harm; recognize no claim of theological or religious exemption from vaccination for our members and reiterates the spirit of General Convention policies that Episcopalians should seek the counsel of experienced medical professionals, scientific research and epidemiological evidence; call on the Office of Government Relations to advocate to the United States government for stronger vaccination mandates informed by epidemiological evidence and scientific research; urge all religious leaders to support evidence-based measures that ensure the strongest protections for our communities; ask congregations and dioceses to partner with medical professionals to counter false information, and to become educated about programs in their communities that can provide vaccinations and immunizations at reduced or no cost to those in need .
- MW005 – Adopt policies for vaccination standards within Episcopal institutions and programs requiring them to ensure the safety of participants, including that all participants and staff participating are vaccinated in accordance with the United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Immunization Schedule and/or applicable state law; outside of the United States, local health agencies, ordinances and protocols should be followed in place of the CDC Immunization Schedule; a participant may be exempted from this vaccination requirement only by presenting a certificate from a licensed physician to the staff stating that due to the physical condition of the participant one or more specified immunizations would endanger the participant’s life or health; coordinator of applicable programs and facilities should review for completeness the immunization records of all participants, staff and volunteers for the safety of all involved in the program; dioceses, parishes, schools, camps, daycare and childcare programs, and other programs at Episcopal facilities or sponsored by Episcopal institutions should strive to ensure funding is available or partner with charities to ensure that vaccinations can be made available so that no child is prohibited from participation due to financial burden of vaccination; request the chief legal officer to create a model policy for the church based on this resolution.
For a complete list of resolutions passed at the June 2019 meeting of the Executive Council, please consult this article from Episcopal News Service. If you have concerns as to how this might impact your school, please contact Ann Mellow.