SPRINGFIELD, Ill. (AP) â€” Illinois families who don’t want their children to be vaccinated will have to get a doctor’s note before claiming a religious exemption, but the new state law won’t affect students heading back to school in the coming weeks.
Gov. Bruce Rauner recently signed a bill that aims to reduce the number of unvaccinated children in the state’s classrooms. Because the law was passed after many children had already received their routine checkups or started school, the requirements will be delayed until Oct. 16 â€” the day after a deadline for students to receive their vaccines or file objections.
“This is a bit of a difficult situation … A lot of kids have already gone to get their physical and so forth. Some schools have already started. To send them back to the doctor would be costing the parents,” said Melaney Arnold, a spokeswoman for the state’s Department of Public Health.
Families seeking a religious exemption next year or transferring after next year’s deadline must complete a certificate explaining their objection with a doctor’s signature to prove he or she counseled the parents about the benefits of vaccines and the danger of opting out. The form only is required for children entering kindergarten, sixth and ninth grades, Arnold said.
Students who transfer from another state will have to meet the requirement beginning in mid-October, she said.
The Illinois State Board of Education was aware of more than 13,000 such exemptions in 2013, according to spokeswoman Megan Griffin. It’s unclear how effective the new law will be in reducing the amount of unvaccinated children, because the way schools define a religious objection also is ambiguous.
“General, philosophical or moral reluctance to allow physical examinations . will not provide a sufficient basis for an exception,” Griffin said. “When local schools are looking at it … red flags go up when they see words that refer to a moral basis or fear of vaccines, as opposed to a personal religious belief. It does have to be based on religious belief, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be tenets of a religious organization.”
Illinois is among 47 states that allow children an exemption from vaccines based on religious concerns.