Federal appeals judges uphold mandatory vaccinations

By Steve Korris | Mar 24, 2011


RICHMOND – Fourth Circuit appeals judges have upheld the constitutionality of mandatory vaccination for West Virginia school children.

They found U.S. District Judge Joseph Goodwin of Charleston correctly dismissed a suit that Jennifer Workman filed against the Mingo County Board of Education.

"Workman's constitutional challenges to the West Virginia statute requiring mandatory vaccination as a condition of attending school is without merit," Circuit Judge James Wynn wrote in a March 21 ruling.

He wrote that the Supreme Court has consistently recognized that a state may require immunization of school children.

Circuit Judge Steven Agee and senior district judge Patrick Duffy of South Carolina concurred.

West Virginia allows exemption from vaccination only if a physician certifies that vaccination would be impossible or improper.

Psychiatrist John MacCallum signed a certificate for Workman in 2007 when her second child prepared to enroll in Head Start.

Her first child suffered illnesses she connected to vaccinations.

County health officer Manolo Tampoya approved the certificate, but county school superintendent Dwight Dials rejected it and sent the child home.

A year later, a different Head Start program accepted the certificate and enrolled the child.

When she "aged out" of Head Start, Dials blocked her enrollment in elementary school.

Workman sued the board, Dials and state superintendent Steven Paine, claiming they violated her right of free religion and denied her equal protection and due process.

She argued under state law that Dials had no right to reject MacCallum's certificate.

Goodwin found no merit in her constitutional claims and no indication that state law provided a cause of action for damages.

On appeal, Workman argued that no compelling state interest in vaccination exists because the diseases aren't prevalent.

Wynn wrote, "On the contrary, the state's wish to prevent the spread of communicable diseases clearly constitutes a compelling interest."

He wrote that numerous federal and state courts have concluded that requiring vaccination as a condition of admission to school does not infringe the right to free exercise of religion.

He wrote that she pointed to no evidence of unequal treatment.

He wrote that she didn't explain how the statute is discriminatory.

He wrote that "her complaint is not that it targets a particular religious belief but that it provides no exception from general coverage for hers."

Joanna Tabit, of Steptoe and Johnson in Charleston, represented Mingo County Board of Education and Dials.

Deputy attorney general Charlene Vaughan represented West Virginia Department of Health and Human Resources and the Department of Public Health.

Patricia Finn of Piermont, N.Y., represented Workman.

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