Curtis Tate, Emily Rice Published

Justice Vetoes Bill To Ease Vaccine Requirements For Some Schools

A child is seen receiving a vaccine.Sura Nualpradid/Adobe Stock

Gov. Jim Justice has vetoed a bill to ease vaccine requirements for many of the state’s school-age children.

On the final day of bill signing from the 2024 regular legislative session, Justice vetoed House Bill 5105.

The controversial bill would have changed West Virginia’s vaccination requirements by allowing virtual public school students to be exempt from vaccination policies and for private and parochial schools to institute their own policies either exempting students or not.

In a statement, Justice said he was persuaded by the state’s leading medical experts, who advised him to veto the bill.

“Since this legislation was passed, I have heard constant, strong opposition to this legislation from our state’s medical community,” Justice said. “The overwhelming majority that have voiced their opinion believe that this legislation will do irreparable harm by crippling childhood immunity to diseases such as mumps and measles.”

Justice added that spikes in measles in surrounding states with less stringent vaccine requirements guided his decision.

“West Virginia historically has seen very few instances of these diseases, specifically because the vaccination requirements in this state are so strong,” he said. “Importantly, the vaccines at issue have been required in this state for decades and have kept our communities safe.”

As the regular session wound down earlier this month, the House approved HB 5105 on a vote of 70 to 29 and in the Senate by 20 to 12.

As the law stands, all students in West Virginia have to receive vaccines for diseases like polio and measles, unless they are homeschooled or medically exempt.

Justice said parents from private and parochial schools voiced their opposition to the bill.

“We have heard from this community that they see this bill as purely divisive and, if signed into law, requiring consideration of adopting policies that will result in parents pulling their children from their schools,” he said.

Justice said while he understood those who saw the issue as one of freedom to make other health decisions, he could not ignore the “wisdom” of the medical community.

“I will defer to our licensed medical professionals who have come forward overwhelmingly to say this bill could and likely would result in reduced immunity and harm to West Virginia’s kids. Our kids are our future. They are our most important resource, and I will protect them with everything I have.”