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CT Senate passes bill that will eliminate religious exemptions for school vaccinations

Gov. Ned Lamont is expected to sign the bill on Wednesday.

HARTFORD, Conn. — A bill that would eliminate the religious exemption for vaccines required for school, passed in the state Senate Tuesday night. It passed by a vote of 22-14. 

The vote came after thousands of people spent hours outside of the State Capitol protesting the bill. Hundreds of them were still gathered outside when the vote came in.

“We'll see them in court. We're very prepared for a legal challenge. We're excited for it,” said LeeAnn Ducat of Informed Choice CT.

Many said they were not surprised by the results, but still left disappointed.

“We're taking the way the rights of parents to make choices for their children. It's a really sad day in Connecticut when a policy like this would go forward and go through,” said Jonathan Johnson of New Britain.

If the bill is signed into law, it will take effect in September 2022. Children already in grades K-12 will be grandfathered in, meaning they can still claim the religious exemption. However, those starting school from then on, cannot claim it.

“I have to figure out a plan to school this little one right here. She can't go to public school now as of five minutes ago so what do we do now? How do we educate her? That's what's going through my mind right now,” said Monica Szymonik of Glastonbury.

Tuesday’s rally brought people from all over the state and even out of state to the Capitol. Robert F. Kennedy Jr. addressed the crowd supporting their stance. 

Those in favor of the bill say it is meant to protect children, especially those who cannot get vaccinated for medical reasons.

“I worry about children who are in the schools who aren't being protected from deadly infectious diseases,” said Amy Pisani of Vaccinate Your Family.

“Vaccines are safe, we need them to keep our children protected in daycares and schools,” she said.

The bill now moves to the governor’s desk. He is expected to sign it Wednesday.

Earlier Tuesday, thousands of people lined the streets along the State Capitol to rally against a bill that would get rid of religious and medical exemptions for school vaccines.

This rally started at 9 a.m. and went on until the afternoon.

"My body, my choice," said Marissa Delikat of Groton.

Parents and their children were filled with emotions as they were rallying, filled with frustration and anger.

Just last week, lawmakers spent up to 16 hours debating this controversial bill in the House, one that would remove Connecticut's religious and medical exemptions for schools beginning with the 2022 school year.

Parents told FOX61 it is not up to lawmakers to decide what goes into their children's bodies.

"It’s not something I’m willing to do. I don’t co-parent with the government; I co-parent with my husband and I’m doing what’s best for my children and my body," added Delikat.

"I would like to see them change this and not pass it. I mean, no one should be forced to inoculate any children, it should be a parent’s choice. Plain and simple," said Matthew Didomizio of Cromwell.

Some Republicans opposed the bill and called it a government overreach, but Democrat argued this is the right way to prevent outbreaks from happening in schools.

The bill does not force children to be vaccinated, but it does bar unvaccinated children who do not qualify for medical or religious exemptions from enrolling in school.

Those vaccinations include - measles, mumps, rubella, and several others.

Robert F. Kennedy Jr. spoke at the rally and urged senators to vote no on the bill.

"We need long term studies that show if you take it, you're actually a healthier human being," said Kennedy Jr.

On the flip side, those who support the bill said a vaccine could have saved their life.

Francesca Testa said she was in the hospital for days from meningitis and had she gotten the vaccine, it would not have happened.

"As someone who had one of these vaccine preventable diseases, it’s devastating that parents don’t want to prevent their children from having the same thing that happened to myself and my family," said Testa.

"Vaccines are safe. We need them to keep our children protected in daycares and schools," said Amy Pisani of Vaccinate Your Family.

Governor Lamont had said he is ready to sign this bill into law if it gets passed in the Senate.

RELATED: Heated debate and passionate rallies expected ahead of Senate vote to repeal religious exemption

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