Lawmakers hear impassioned testimony on vaccine bill

Lawmakers hear impassioned testimony on vaccine bill

Jean Andersson-Swayze of Middlebury testifying in favor of Senate Bill 199. VTD/Alan Panebaker

Dr. Jean Andersson-Swayze of Middlebury testifying in favor of Senate Bill 199. VTD/Alan Panebaker

The House Committee on Health Care got a dose of conflicting testimony Wednesday night on the merits of taking away a philosophical exemption for parents who don’t want to have their children immunized.

The Senate passed a bill that would eliminate the exemption earlier this month. Now S.199 is in the House. If the measure is enacted, parents would have to get their children vaccinated to enroll them in school, absent an exemption on religious or medical grounds.

Dozens of parents and medical professionals offered brief, impassioned testimony. Under pragmatic questions lies a deeper philosophical debate over parental rights, public health and traditional medicine.

Proponents of the bill emphasize the risks to public health of unimmunized children. The Vermont Department of Health and other groups such as the Vermont Public Health Association support the bill introduced by Sen. Kevin Mullin. Rep. George Till, a medical doctor who sits on the House Committee on Health Care, introduced similar legislation.

“Immunization is the single most important thing that has helped prevent serious disease in this country,” said Ken Borie, a family doctor from Randolph.

Many young parents have little perspective on the dangers of diseases like measles and polio that killed thousands, Borie said.

Those who want to keep the exemption say the number of unimmunized children in Vermont is not as high as some would like people to think, and there is a trend toward over-vaccination.

Julia McDaniel, a chiropractor who opposes the bill, said the proposal goes too far.

“The question I want the committee to consider is when is it appropriate for the state to take away an individual’s rights,” McDaniel said.

She and others emphasize that the state is in the 90th percentile for vaccination rates for vaccines other than chicken pox.

“Do we want to take away an individual’s rights over chicken pox?” she said.

McDaniel said taking away the philosophical exemption would mean many children would not be allowed to enroll in school.

“If a child is even missing so much as one booster shot, they are counted as unvaccinated, which is very misleading, so they could have all their other shots, be missing their booster shot and they’re lumped in with unvaccinated,” she said.

There is not enough scientific proof of vaccine safety, McDaniel said, to justify taking away a parent’s right not to vaccinate his or her child.

Sorsha Anderson, a member of the Rumney Memorial School Board, said the bill could create real financial impacts for the school if the 41 children whose parents declined at least one vaccine based on a philosophical exemption couldn’t be enrolled.

Numerous parents blamed vaccines for neurologic problems and autism. Many others who testified emphasized that they research the vaccines and carefully decide which are potentially more dangerous and which put their children at risk of spreading diseases.

Dr. Sandy Reider of Lyndonville said the state has a high rate of vaccination overall.

“Most of the unvaccinated kids are missing chicken pox or hepatitis B, neither of which is a threat to public health,” he said.

Pediatricians and a couple of medical students testified in favor of the bill.

Jean Andersson-Swayze, a family doctor in Middlebury, compared the philosophical exemption to vaccines to a philosophical exemption to driving through a red light.

“Pretty soon, someone’s going to be injured, whether it’s me or someone innocent,” she said.

Andersson-Swayze said when she was working in Haiti, she saw a child die from tetanus, which is preventable by a vaccine.

“There’s nothing more heartbreaking than having a patient die from a preventable disease,” she said.

Some supporters of the exemption claim the established medical community refuses to acknowledge alternative studies that show the potential harms vaccines can cause.

Conversely, some medical doctors claim opposition to vaccines is based largely on junk science that is not peer reviewed. One high-profile British study connecting autism to a measles-mumps-rubella vaccine has been withdrawn.

Robert Nesbit, a surgeon at Fletcher Allen Health Care, said he was skeptical of the “fake science” asserting that vaccines are unsafe. He said much of the testimony the committee heard was based on studies found on the Internet that are not evidence-based.

Nesbit said the weight of peer-reviewed science falls on the side of ensuring children are vaccinated.

“This is a question of greater good and following evidence-based medicine,” Nesbit said.

Rep. Mike Fisher, the chair of the committee, said the committee has a week to discuss the bill, but he did not know when a vote would be taken.

Alan Panebaker

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24 Comments on "Lawmakers hear impassioned testimony on vaccine bill"


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4 years 7 months ago

If we are considering taking away the philosophical exemption based upon public health, why are we leaving in a “religious” (another word for philosophical) exemption? Why can one threaten my health and safety because they call their philosophy “religion”?

Michelle Parsons
4 years 4 months ago

If your vaccines work, explain how the un-vaccinated are threatening YOUR health and safety?…You are vaccinated…Remember?

Victor Pavlovic
4 years 7 months ago
This article just proves how little most doctors know about the dangers of vaccines, they always point to the science proving vaccines are safe, and these studies are all funded by the vaccine manufacturers, what do they think that they will say. Also they talk about the paper in England that was done raising questions on the safety of the MMr vaccine and call it junk science, when in fact they never mention where it was published, and who was behind the retraction, and that the paper was wrongfully retracted, this in itself tells me that they don’t really read… Read more »
Sarita Khan
4 years 7 months ago

I wonder if our representatives would be willing to take a look at what is being exposed in Europe regarding vaccines and safety. They are going in the opposite direction and reducing vaccinations due to severe side effects which they are now admitting. Take a look at this report taken from a medical journal.

4 years 7 months ago
““The question I want the committee to consider is when is it appropriate for the state to take away an individual’s rights,” McDaniel said. She and others emphasize that the state is in the 90th percentile for vaccine rates for vaccines other than chicken pox.” The answer to this wise question is NEVER. Our constitutional god-given rights to control our own bodies are INALIENABLE. That means this is where the line is drawn between “common good” and individual rights. To top it off, Vermont childhood vaccination rates for the Vt mandatory vaccines are NOT low, they’re all above 90% except… Read more »
4 years 7 months ago
The VT Dept. of Health has presented three different sets of wonky stats at this point. First they said that VT had low vaccination rates on the National Immunization Survey. The children with low rates in the survey are from 19 to 35 months old, in other words, under 3 years of age. So we aren’t talking about school, we are talking about daycare. Next, the survey measures compliance with RECOMMENDED vaccines, not required vaccines. So yup, some kids in VT don’t get the recommended vaccines. Removing the philosophical exemption won’t make parents give children vaccines that are not required.… Read more »
Curtis Sinclair
4 years 7 months ago

Measles rates are rising in Europe as vaccination rates decline.

People should be educated about the subject so they will get their children vaccinated voluntarily. Here is a WHO site that explains the myths:

Alex Barnham
4 years 7 months ago

All of my vaccinated friends are getting fibromyalgia, cancers of every kind, diabetes, etc. The medical community is disregarding Gerson therapies and similar therapies. Read Colin Campbell’s material. Become your child’s doctor while you are still free to do so. LEARN ABOUT THE FACTS. DIGG

Danny Weiss
4 years 7 months ago
So much has been written by health professionals about the dangers of vaccines. Vaccines contain poisonous heavy metals such as mercury and aluminum in amounts that far exceed food safety standards. I believe that there is a lot of misinformation originating from the medical establishment, which doesn’t even acknowledge a link between an acute reaction of paralysis and death directly following a vaccination. Rather than this lay person writing about why vaccine use should not be mandated, I will let doctors, medical journalists, researchers, and naturopathic physicians explain it themselves through an article, “Why Vaccinations Harm Children: Health Experts Sound… Read more »
Alex Barnham
4 years 6 months ago

The FDA is now allowing the pharmaceutical companies to conduct their own evaluations of their products and accepting them carte blanche. If the medical community is also accepting the pharmaceutical companies reports, we’re all over our heads in the deepest and darkest excrement known to mankind. The final nail in our coffins will be to run scared into the public prairie and believe it is for our own good.

Steve Smith
4 years 6 months ago
Autism is common. Shots are common. If shots have nothing to do with autism, there should be about 150 kids in Vermont with autism that was first noted in the week after a shot. I find it very understandable that people have a hard time letting go of this belief, no matter how many studies hunt for the relationship unsuccessfully. There are people in school who can’t be directly protected by vaccines – those who are allergic, those who get the shot and don’t respond, the unborn babies of pregnant staff. They have a right to expect safe schools. Nobody… Read more »
4 years 6 months ago

A public hearing was held Wednesday night in a room packed full of Vermont’s parenting generation. see for more.

More testimony will be heard next week. It is unclear if they will even vote on this unnecessary bill. see for more.

To sign the petition or learn more, visit the VT Coalition’s website:

4 years 6 months ago

A science-based review of the views of those who support this bad legislation as reflected by Walter Clapp,the director of the Vermont Chapter of the March of Dimes, can be found at:

Other papers addressing other vaccine, vaccination and health freedom issues can be found on my web site:

Hopefully, after reading the Vermont-specific review, all thinking Vermonters will understand the reality that this legislation is but another attempt to take away their rights to choose what medical treatment, if any, is appropriate for themselves and their minor children or wards.

Phoebe Jackson
4 years 6 months ago
I’m sorry, but how are medical students qualified to testify on this subject? They are still students and they are often so busy that they don’t have time to do their own research. Pharmaceutical companies donate millions of dollars to medical schools, is this not a conflict of interest? The statement that the “fake science” isn’t peer reviewed blows my mind. I’m curious how hard these people have actually looked to prove such a statement. If you are a parent do your own research. Provide your pediatrician with scientific proof that they can’t deny. Viera Scheibner, PhD has published research… Read more »
Marna Ehrech
4 years 6 months ago
I was at the hearing, and was impressed with all the folks who turned out to testify. I elucidated a few facts when it was my turn: The Amish communities have ZERO autism. Just doesn’t exist. The AMish do not vaccinate. I’d love to hear the medical industry’s explanation for that. You can tell me I can’t say no to vaccines (while still maintaining the religious exemption), yet if a vaccine maims or injures my child, I have no recourse because the pharmaceutical companies are immune to prosecution … ! How does that work? Bottom line, the system works here… Read more »
Curtis Sinclair
4 years 6 months ago

Most Amish do get vaccinations.

On the other hand nothing is 100 percent safe. People should be able to choose whether to be vaccinated after being educated on the subject. Some have proposed that parents who choose not to vaccinate should be obligated to pay higher insurance rates than those parents who do immunize. The recent measles outbreaks in Minnesota and Utah show what can happoen if people do not vaccinate.

Winnie Harrison
4 years 6 months ago
The fact is parents are wising up to vaccine risks and to the declining health as a whole of the children in our society. That awareness is what is behind this drive to strip us of our rights to accept or decline medical procedures. It is NOT true that vaccines are responsible for the decline in disease, either. The decline was due to better sanitation and nutrition and came about BEFORE mass vaccination. If vaccines protect the way they are supposed to, then it shouldn’t matter if others are unvaccinated. How selfish to demand that my child be used as… Read more »
Curtis Sinclair
4 years 6 months ago
The MMR vaccine is 95% effective at preventing measles. It does not give everyone immunity. In the United States, measles caused 450 reported deaths and 4,000 cases of encephalitis annually before measles vaccine became available in the mid-1960s. (Orenstein WA, Papania MJ, Wharton ME. Measles elimination in the United States. J Infect Dis 2004;189(Suppl1):S1–3.) The DTaP vaccine is 59-89% effective in preventing pertussis. Between 1940-1945, before widespread vaccination, as many as 147,000 cases of pertussis were reported in the United States each year, with approximately 8,000 deaths caused by the disease. A study found that, in eight countries where immunization… Read more »
Jay Davis
4 years 6 months ago

Well, don’t look to the MD for eduation or guidance. They still circumcise boys on demand and even solicit the procedure.
Not one medical society in the world except the US does this.
As for vaccinations, as a layman, I would suspect if 90 percent of kids are vaccinated, that would protect those that aren’t. And, please don’t suggest some vaccinated kids are still at risk. This is the red herring and fear mongering the medical profession is famous for.
Obesity also is undesirable, but hardly as risky to health as drinking and smoking. Where is the medical professions stand here?

fran allen
4 years 6 months ago
Vaccines, like everything else, come with risks and rewards. A parent may consider the risk inherent in a vaccine for a child contracting a disease like Rubella is probably outweighed by its rewards whereas contracting the flu may not. It’s all about making the decision based on the risk & reward. Who better to make these kinds of decisions, an informed parent or a politician who can be influenced by big pharma and their campaign money? The idea that unvaccinated people are somehow putting vaccinated people at risk is pretty crazy if the vaccines work as advertized. Educate before you… Read more »
Curtis Sinclair
4 years 6 months ago
There are members of our society that are too young, too weak, or otherwise unable to receive vaccines for medical reasons. They rely on “herd immunity” to keep them well. In the case of pertussis, full immunization isn’t typically achieved until a child has received all three doses of DTaP vaccine series which begins at 2 months of age, continues at 4 months and then concludes with the final dose at 6 months. There was a serious pertussis outbreak in CA in 2010. All of the deaths occurred in infants under the age of 3 months. Nine were younger than… Read more »
4 years 6 months ago
This legislation has nothing to do with Vermont Public Health. It is part of a national effort by the “vaccine authorities” to eliminate any non-medical exemptions for any populations. The proponents of the Bills keep talking about real diseases, like Polio, and Diphtheria. The vaccination rates for those diseases are at all-time record highs. Bill proponents don’t mention the fact that the primary usage for the Philosophical Exemption is Chicken Pox. The addition of Chicken Pox in 2008 doubled the Philosophical Exemption rate. The “vaccine authorities” are very concerned that parents are not fully embracing every single vaccine they recommend… Read more »
Steve Smith
4 years 6 months ago
I appreciate the cogent discussion without a reliance on junk science. A couple of facts should be challenged here. I am very skeptical that the complication rate of natural chicken pox is less than 1/100,000. The number I see quoted is a *mortality* rate of 1/100,000 for those acquiring it under the age of 4, 1/60,000 mortality for all ages, with a hospitalization rate of 1 – 2/1000. There is also the issue of shingles. This painful re-awakening of naturally acquired chicken pox occurs in one person in five over a lifetime. For roughly 1/50 of them (4/1000 of those… Read more »
John Zwagg
4 years 5 months ago
1. Hepatitis B Vaccination of Male Neonates and Autism Annals of Epidemiology , Vol. 19, No. 9 ABSTRACTS (ACE), September 2009: 651-680, p. 659 CM Gallagher, MS Goodman, Graduate Program in Public Health, Stony Brook University Medical Center, Stony Brook, NY PURPOSE: Universal newborn immunization with hepatitis B vaccine was recommended in 1991; however, safety findings are mixed. The Vaccine Safety Datalink Workgroup reported no association between hepatitis B vaccination at birth and febrile episodes or neurological adverse events. Other studies found positive associations between hepatitis B vaccination and ear infection, pharyngitis, and chronic arthritis; as well as receipt of… Read more »
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