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Parents rally for vaccine choice

CHARLESTON, W.Va. -- Dozens of parents and activists took to the steps of the Capitol Complex Wednesday morning to advocate for the right not to vaccinate their children.

West Virginia is one of two states that does not allow parents a nonmedical exemption to immunizations.

Rally participants urged the West Virginia Legislature to pass Senate Bill 50, which would allow parents nonmedical immunization exemptions to vaccines.

"We feel like it's a constitutional issue," said Claudia Raymer of Moundsville, founder of the group We the People.

Among the concerns are that some vaccines are developed in aborted fetuses, which causes a moral objection for some parents, she said.

She also argued that some vaccines like the ones for chicken pox and for hepatitis B are not needed. Chicken pox is not a deadly disease and hepatitis B is a sexually transmitted disease, she said.

Raymer's son was fully vaccinated until she said he developed a condition related to the immunizations. A doctor in Pittsburgh recommended a medical exemption, which was denied by Marshall County officials, she said.

Raymer is filing an injunction but if the medical exemption is ultimately denied, her only other choice besides vaccinations will be to educate her son at home, she said.

"We're not asking for groundbreaking legislation," Raymer said. "We're asking for the rights just like other states [have]."

Among the speakers for the rally was Patricia Finn, a New York attorney who represented Jennifer Workman. Workman, a Mingo County woman, sued to keep her child from being immunized. Late last year, the Supreme Court declined to hear her case, letting stand a previous ruling from U.S. District Judge Joseph R. Goodwin that said the girl should be immunized before going to school.

Advocates for vaccinations say the higher the percentage of vaccinated students the less likely a school is for outbreaks of illnesses. Vaccinating the majority protects those who may have medical reasons not to have vaccinations, advocates have said. They also argue that there is no connection between vaccinations and autism. A British medical study linking autism to vaccines has been discredited and retracted.

But that's little comfort to Rhonda Burcham, a Huntington resident who said her grandson was diagnosed with autism after receiving his measles, mumps and rubella vaccine. She said his physician told the family the autism was caused by the vaccine. Burcham's daughter was a denied a medical exemption and the family moved to Ohio to avoid vaccinating the boy.

"I wish for [legislators] to listen to parents," Burcham said. "We put you in office, you represent us. This is what we want."

Nicole and Justin Matten of Vermont were speakers at the rally. The Mattens lost their 7-year-old daughter Kaylynne in December, days after she received her annual flu vaccine.

They say the vaccine caused her death. The family is now suing in Vaccination Compensation Court. Finn represents the family.

Nicole Matten said she urged West Virginia legislators to read Kaylynne's story.

"Say yes to Senate Bill 50," she said. "It should be a parent's choice."

Reach Lori Kersey at lori.kersey@wvgazette.com or 304-348-1240.


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