SIOUX FALLS, S.D., Dec. 28 (UPI) -- A South Dakota lawmaker says he plans to introduce legislation to make it easier for parents to opt out of having children vaccinated before they start school.
State law provides for parents to opt out of vaccinations based on religious doctrine. State Sen. Jeff Monroe, R-Pierre, said his bill would allow parents to opt out for any "sincere, verifiable religious belief," the Argus Leader newspaper in Sioux Falls, S.D., reported Friday.
"As the law is right now, the Lutheran denomination does not have as part of its doctrine that it's opposed to vaccination," Monroe said. "Well, of course not. It was established (almost 500) years ago.
"I want the law to function so if someone doesn't like it, and that's the reason, they can (opt out)."
The College of Physicians of Philadelphia notes on its website inoculation against disease dates back at least 250 years.
Doneen Hollingsworth, secretary of the South Dakota Department of Health, said Monroe's proposal would be "a step backward for public health," the newspaper reported.
"Immunizations are so important to prevent serious infection and death from disease," Hollingsworth said. "Diseases like smallpox, measles, whooping cough used to sicken hundreds of thousands of people every year. They've basically been eliminated or decreased dramatically because of safe and effective vaccines."
South Dakota State Medical Association President Dr. Robert Allison said allowing children to go unvaccinated puts their health, as well as the health of children too young to be vaccinated, at risk -- and threatens to promote the spread of disease.
State law requires students entering school or early childhood programs to be immunized against diphtheria, pertussis and tetanus; polio; measles, mumps and rubella; and chickenpox.