By Matt Petrillo


TRENTON, N.J. (CBS) — Hundreds of people have gathered Thursday for a hearing on repealing the religious exemption to childhood vaccinations in New Jersey. It’s a controversial issue and everyone wants their voice to be heard as advocates for and against the bill showed up in force.

There were so many people at the statehouse in Trenton that it was standing room. The majority of people who appeared today were against requiring their kids to be vaccinated.

(credit: CBS3)

Chanting “parents call the shots,” people were fired up outside the statehouse.

“Essentially what this bill is doing, it’s forcing all of us to accept the pharmaceutical company as our God and our religion with no exceptions,” Sue Collins with the New Jersey Coalition for Vaccination Choice said.

State Sen. Joseph Vitale sponsored the bill that would eliminate a religious exemption when it comes to school children getting vaccinations.

“We’ve seen measles outbreaks, other outbreaks in New Jersey and communities and clusters of children who are not immunized. That puts everyone else at risk,” Vitale said.

There was an outbreak of measles cases in Ocean County earlier this year.

“It is much more important to have all children vaccinated against a variety of deadly communicable diseases than not to do that,” Vitale said.

Today was the last time for public comment over the bill, which appeared to attract hundreds of people who oppose eliminating the religious exemption.

“Once this is passed, we’ll not be allowed to go back to school in January and that’s very difficult for my family. We have a two-person working family and we’ll be forced to home school,” said Mark Milan, of Gladstone.

Milan said he doesn’t get his children vaccinated because “my religious tenants preclude me from doing that.”

If the bill is passed, there are other exemptions, like medical reasons, that would allow parents to not vaccinate their kids.

“All we’re simply saying is that you need to have the basic five immunizations to get in school. My daughter is in preschool and she requires a flu shot for her safety and the safety of the children around them,” Vitale said.

Officials say there are an increasing number of children who are getting diseases that could have been prevented by vaccinations.

The bill is expected to be voted on before the end of the month.