Do vaccine mandates in public and parochial schools violate civil liberties? Some who have refused vaccination claim as much.

We disagree.

Over the past 104 years, the ACLU has become known for defending civil liberties, even when those liberties are extremely unpopular. Chief among the liberties we defend are religious freedom and the right to bodily autonomy.

We all should have the right to make our own health care decisions and follow any religion that we choose (or none), but these rights are not absolute. They do not include the right to inflict harm on others.

While we do not support blanket vaccine mandates in all cases, we also do not see a civil liberties problem when it comes to the current vaccine policies in West Virginia schools. Vaccines required under West Virginia law are safe and effective at preventing highly transmissible and harmful diseases and it is reasonable to require them in order to attend a school.

In fact, vaccines actually further civil liberties. They protect the most vulnerable in society – those with disabilities and fragile immune systems and those who are too young to get vaccinated. All children have a right to an education, and that includes children who may have underlying medical conditions preventing them from getting vaccinated. It’s our job to protect them so that they can get the same quality education as everyone else.

Because there is no equally effective alternative available to protect public health, vaccines are a smart mandate for school attendance in West Virginia.

We also have the right to a safe work environment, and vaccine requirements help ensure this by protecting our teachers, administrators and bus drivers.

As this debate unfolds, we are seeing a resurgence of diseases like measles. Four of West Virginia’s five border states have confirmed cases, according to a report in Newsweek.

This session, lawmakers sent bill 5105 to Gov. Justice’s desk. The bill begins to chip away at West Virginia’s smart approach to public health by  allowing private and parochial schools to set their own vaccination standards.

The governor should veto this bill and know that he is protecting the civil liberties of West Virginians in doing so.

“West Virginia has been a shining example of how strong immunization laws ensure high immunization rates,” the West Virginia Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics said in a letter. Contact the governor’s office today and tell him to protect that shining example: 304-558-2000.