Tennessee bills could expand vaccine exemptions despite health expert warnings, limited religious foundation

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Nursing supervisor Nadine Stone fills syringes with vaccine at the vaccination site at First Baptist Cleveland in Cleveland, Tenn. on Tuesday, March 30, 2021.

Tennessee legislators will consider two bills Wednesday that could increase the number of families opting out of vaccinations for their children on religious grounds - a growing trend that a recent state report cited as likely driven by anti-vaccine philosophy, not religion.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that all children are vaccinated against 16 different preventable diseases that can be serious or even deadly, such as influenza, measles, mumps, tetanus and pertussis.

Every state has laws that require specific vaccines for students, which typically also apply to children in day cares, private schools and those that are home-schooled. Colleges and universities may also require vaccines.

Currently, no state requires children to receive the COVID-19 vaccine for school entry, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. The University of Tennessee system has also stated it will not require COVID-19 vaccines for the coming academic year.