Are vaccines a religious matter?

More and more parents are citing religion in choosing not to vaccinate their children against a host of diseases.

Children entering school are required by state law to be immunized against tetanus, measles, polio, pertussis, and diphtheria. There are only two ways for parents to avoid the requirement — obtain a medical exemption from a physician or claim that vaccinations violate their religious beliefs.

WGBH reports that the number of kindergarteners receiving religious exemptions from vaccination requirements is the highest it’s been over 20 years of state record keeping. More than 80 percent of the 920 kindergarteners exempted from the state’s vaccination requirement last year did so by obtaining a religious exemption, according to data from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

Dukes, Berkshire, and Franklin counties lead the state with the highest rates of exemptions at 8.2, 5.4, and 4.5 percent, according to Massachusetts school immunization surveys from 2018.

Jennifer Reich, a professor of sociology at the University of Colorado in Denver who has researched the issue, told WGBH that many parents who take religious exemptions for their children aren’t actually religious. She found that the parents who are most likely to reject vaccines are white, college-educated, and well-off — and tend to view vaccines as a health choice.

“We’ve treated vaccines as a kind of personal consumption product and not really part of public health systems that are really geared towards protecting everyone in the community — not just your own children,” Reich said.

Rep. Andy Vargas of Haverhill filed legislation in April to do away with the religious exemption, in part because there had already been two confirmed cases of measles in Massachusetts this year and nearly 1,000 nationwide. In 2018, there were only 372 cases nationally for the entire year.

Vargas said none of the world’s religions oppose vaccinations. “I have a duty to protect the general public and particularly people who are most vulnerable in our society,” he told the Boston Globe. “I felt that it was time to step up to the plate and respect the science.” Vargas’s bill was referred to the committee on education at the end of June.

Dr. Monica Bharel, the state’s public health commissioner, has also urged everyone to be vaccinated. “I urge all Massachusetts residents to take this health outbreak seriously,” she said.

In May, the Massachusetts Medical Society adopted a resolution making it the society’s policy to oppose non-medical vaccine exemptions for students to enter school.

A group called Health Choice Massachusetts issued a statement opposing Vargas’s bill. “[Massachusetts] has achieved one of the highest rates of vaccination in the country without coercive means and exceeds the levels for herd immunity,” the group said. “Every child deserves a public education without discrimination on the basis of race, color, sex, gender identity, religion, national origin, sexual orientation or disabilty.”

SARAH BETANCOURT

BEACON HILL

State lawmakers direct Transportation Secretary Stephanie Pollack to appear next week at a second Registry of Motor Vehicles oversight hearing. The first one fizzled when the Baker administration refused to fully cooperate, citing the priority of an ongoing investigation. (CommonWealth) A Globe editorial rips the Baker administration for its stonewalling the legislative oversight hearing.

The fiscal 2020 budget calls for a 50 percent increase in the assessment on the state’s utilities to fund the Department of Public Utilities. (State House News)

The parents of Conrad Roy III appear at a State House event pushing for passage of a law that would make it a crime to coerce someone to commit suicde. (Boston Globe) The measure is named after Roy, an 18-year-old Mattapoisett man whose suicide was encouraged by his girlfriend Michelle Carter, a now 22-year-old Plainville woman who was convicted of involuntary manslaughter and is serving a sentence at the Bristol County House of Correction. (Standard Times) 

House Speaker Robert DeLeo’s Greenworks climate change bill wins approval in the House. (State House News)

MUNICIPAL MATTERS

The cost of water is rising rapidly in many communities, an expense that many residents, particularly seniors, are finding hard to bear, says Martha Davis, part of a research team at Northeastern University. (WBUR)

About half of the residents of Harwich remain without power following a tornado that touched down Tuesday. Gov. Charlie Baker says he will seek disaster cleanup funds for the area. (Cape Cod Times) 

WASHINGTON/NATIONAL/INTERNATIONAL

It was Mueller time on Capitol Hill, but the consensus is that the breathlessly-awaited testimony of the former special counsel did little to change the dynamic surrounding the case. (Washington Post) Joan Vennochi says the sharks on Capitol Hill ate the taciturn prosecutor for breakfast. (Boston Globe) Retired federal judge Nancy Gertner recalls Mueller as a cautious prosecutor, but she said his performance Wednesday was “so passive, so restricted, so crabbed” that some speculated he was impaired in some way. (WBUR)

Congresswoman Lori Trahan has called for impeachment proceedings to begin against President Trump. (Salem News)

Right after National Security Advisor John Bolton met with officials in South Korea, North Korea fired two short-range missiles into the Sea of Japan. (NPR)

ELECTIONS

A Republican editorial backs US Rep. Richard Neal, who is facing a challenge from Holyoke Mayor Alex Morse. The editorial says Morse’s challenge couldn’t come at a worse time, when Neal has finally attained the chairmanship of the Ways and Means Committee and his consensus-style of politics is badly needed.

BUSINESS/ECONOMY

The union representing workers at the Battery Wharf Hotel say they’ll take a strike vote on August 5 if an agreement isn’t reached on a new contract. (Boston Globe)

The Avalon Easton apartment complex has cleared its first hurdle to adding 44 more apartments to its 290-unit affordable housing complex in Easton. (Brockton Enterprise)

For the next two years, Fall River will benefit from an economic development coordinator specifically tasked with downtown revitalization as a part of the MassDevelopment Transformative Development Initiative. (Herald News) 

EDUCATION

It really needs a category of its own, but since it involves a Harvard Law professor who gets  quite an education, we’ll drop in here the story that has had untold numbers of jaws drop.

HEALTH/HEALTH CARE

Bottled water drawn from the ground at Spring Hill Farm Dairy in Haverhill and sold under a variety of brands has increased levels of man-made grease-repelling substances, and that led state health officials to advise pregnant people to avoid it. (WGBH)

ARTS/CULTURE

Carissa Yip, a 16-year-old Philips Academy student who is the youngest player ever to earn the title of expert, won the US Girls’ Junior Chess Championship for the second year in a row. (Eagle-Tribune)

TRANSPORTATION 

Ari Ofsevit and Chris Friend of TransitMatters dig into Red Line operations and discover the number of off-peak trains was cut back in the wake of the derailment, even though the T has the manpower and resources to maintain regular service. They say work rules are the cause. (CommonWealth)

Two Uber board members — one of them Arianna Huffingtonresign. (CNBC)

CASINOS/MARIJUANA

Taking a cue from the gambling industry, Nevada is experimenting with chips as a way to solve the marijuana banking problem. (Governing)

CRIMINAL JUSTICE/COURTS

Kenneth Brissette, one of two Boston City Hall aides on trial for extortion in federal court, was described variously in testimony yesterday as an earnest, alarmed public official and a cunning schemer. (Boston Globe)

Two former leaders of the Boston Center for Adult Education go on trial on charges of looting the organization of $1.7 million. (Boston Globe)

The family of Taysha Rohena Silva, who died in a head-on car crash, suspects that someone stole envelopes filled with money at her funeral. (Eagle-Tribune)

Charlie Jiminez tried to take back his guilty plea to second-degree murder and domestic assault charges, but Worcester Superior Court Judge Janet Kenton-Walker turned aside his bid and sentenced him to life in prison with the possibility of parole in 20 years. (Telegram & Gazette)

As The Boston Globe suggested she would a couple months ago, Judge Shelley Joseph has officially rejected a plea deal from federal prosecutors who say she illegally helped someone escape from the clutches of immigration officers. (WBUR)

A Norfolk County grand jury has indicted four men in a violent attack at a Quincy MBTA station after a Bruins playoff game this spring. (Patriot Ledger) 

PASSINGS

Dr. William “Ed” Kois, of Newburyport, who blew the whistle on what he said was substandard care at the Veterans Administration medical facilities, died in a single-car crash on Interstate 95 on Tuesday. (Gloucester Daily Times)

Yankee Candle founder Michael Kittredge II of Leverett dies after a brief illness. (Daily Hampshire Gazette)