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Lawmakers get their shot at vaccine-related bill

Copyright © 2021 Albuquerque Journal

SANTA FE – Two vaccine-related bills met different fates Monday at the state Capitol.

One of the bills – both are sponsored by Sen. Gregg Schmedes, R-Tijeras – seeks to add a conscience objection to the existing reasons New Mexicans can be exempted from state-required immunizations.

It passed the Senate Health and Public Affairs Committee on a 4-3 vote Monday, with Sen. Antoinette Sedillo Lopez, D-Albuquerque, voting along with the panel’s three Republican members to advance the legislation to its next assigned committee.

“No one should be forced to get a vaccine they feel uncomfortable receiving,” Schmedes said in a statement after Senate Bill 232 won approval “The preservation of our right to refuse vaccinations is just as important as our right to access to them.”

Already, the number of New Mexicans opting not to vaccinate their children has steadily increased in recent years, going from 3,322 school-aged children with exemptions in 2014 to more than 4,400 with exemptions in 2018, according to the Department of Health.

Currently, there are three types of allowable immunization exemptions in New Mexico: a medical exemption that requires a physician’s certification, a religious exemption that requires a written affirmation from a religious leader and a religious exemption that parents or legal guardians can submit.

Meanwhile, the other bill, Senate Bill 238, would repeal a provision in a New Mexico public health emergency law that authorizes the Department of Health to seek a court order to quarantine patients who decline to be vaccinated during a declared emergency, either for health or religious reasons.

It failed to pass the Senate committee on a party-line vote, with majority Democrats voting against the measure.

Although the DOH has not invoked the specific power during the COVID-19 pandemic, an agency spokesman said the department has obtained three court orders requiring individuals to self-isolate to prevent spread of the virus.

Schmedes, a nose and throat doctor, said he agrees with other quarantine provisions in the Public Health Emergency Response Act but believes the vaccination provision goes too far.

“It’s just a little too much – it doesn’t seem American to me to force people to stay home just because they can’t get a vaccine,” Schmedes said.

But critics of the bill pointed out that the law, in its current form, requires the DOH to go to court to get a quarantine order, giving a chance to the targeted individual to make their case to a judge.

“This to me is where individualism bows to collectivism,” Sedillo Lopez said.

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