Health Care

Senate gives initial approval to vaccination bill

Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland
Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland

The Vermont Senate gave its first nod to a controversial immunization bill on Thursday. The legislation would remove a philosophical exemption for parents who choose not to have their children vaccinated before they enter kindergarten or enroll in an approved child care facility.

In a 25 to 4 vote, the Senate approved the bill for third reading Friday.

The vaccination bill has become one of the hot-button issues of this legislative session. Parents who claim vaccines have injured their children have visited the Statehouse, given testimony and pushed politicians to retain the exemption. The death of a 7-year-old Barton girl days after receiving a flu vaccine has galvanized opponents of the bill.

Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, who sponsored the legislation, said he proposed the bill because he was alarmed by a study that indicated the state’s immunization rate was falling.

He acknowledged, however, that the legislation puts public health concerns ahead of parents’ right to choose what is best for their children.

“On the one hand you have protecting individual liberties and parents’ right to make a decision,” Mullin said. “On the other hand, we in government have an obligation to protect the public health.”

Read an overview story about the proposed legislation.

For Mullin and the majority of the Senate, the benefit of vaccinating children for diseases like polio, measles and varicella (chicken pox) outweigh the risks for children receiving the vaccines.

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, all 50 states have legislation requiring specified vaccines for students. All states grant exemptions for medical reasons, and most grant religious exemptions. Vermont is one of 20 states that allow a philosophical exemption.

During the floor debate several senators recalled growing up with children who had contracted contagious diseases, like polio, and as a result were paralyzed and relied on an iron lung to breathe.

Sens. Dick McCormack, D-Windsor, and Joe Benning, R-Caledonia, expressed sympathy for the parents who do not think the government should intrude on their privacy, but nonetheless voted for the bill.

Benning said he was initially skeptical of the state intruding somewhere it shouldn’t. But unvaccinated children could pose a danger to others, he said, and even though he thinks of himself as a libertarian, that outweighed his concerns for parental rights.

Sen. Phillip Baruth, D-Chittenden, one of the four to vote against the bill, said he was concerned that the legislation would keep the religious exemption intact while doing away with the philosophical exemption.

“We’re taking rights away from people who have deeply held convictions but do not worship this or that higher being,” Baruth said.

Baruth said the current duality between religious and philosophical convictions is appropriate.

Sen. Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, also voted against the amendment. He asked if there was a definition of what constitutes a “religious belief” and questioned whether there was a distinction between a religious and philosophical belief.

Sen. Anthony Pollina, D/P-Washington, opposed the bill in the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare and on the floor but was noticeably silent during the debate.

Cynthia Johnson, a parent from East Calais who has followed the issue through the Senate, said the bill is not fair to parents.

“This means a parent who even opts out of one vaccine unless there’s a medical exemption won’t be able to send their kid to public day care or kindergarten,” she said.

Johnson says her daughter still suffers petit mal seizures because of a hepatitis B vaccine she received at birth.

“This law is discriminating against the unvaccinated child,” she said. “It promotes the myth that these unvaccinated children will spread diseases among the vaccinated ones.”

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Alan Panebaker

About Alan

Alan Panebaker is a staff writer for He covers health care and energy issues. He graduated from the University of Montana School of Journalism in 2005 and cut his teeth reporting for the Ashland Daily Tidings and Mail Tribune newspapers in Southern Oregon where he covered education and the environment. A dedicated whitewater kayaker and backcountry skier, he later wrote a weekly outdoors column for the Anchorage Press in Anchorage, Alaska, and continues to publish freelance work for Canoe & Kayak magazine. Alan took a three-year hiatus from journalism to attend Vermont Law School. After passing the bar, he decided to return to his journalism roots and start chasing stories again. He lives in Montpelier.

Postscript: Alan died in a kayaking accident on Sept. 19, 2012, shortly after he took a job with American Whitewater. We here at VTDigger mourn his passing.

Email: [email protected]

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  • Kelly Cummings

    With all due respect Mr. Mullin, I can’t help but wonder…if you are interested in protecting the public health, why aren’t you a supporter of health care for all? Talk about protecting the public health. Perhaps sir, you would like to reconsider?

    • I would really like to know why we are giving religious exemptions to a public health and safety issue.

    • Meg O’Donnell

      Ms. Cummings is incorrect in her statement about Senator Mullin. He in fact voted several times in favor of Act 48 last year, first when it passed the Senate and then when the conference report was presented to the Senate for final adoption. The roll call votes for that vote are posted here:

  • Pat Goudey OBrien

    Are children required to have ALL immunizations available? Or is there a core list of those that kids would need to be able to attend school? It’s my understanding that the number of immunizations available has ballooned since my kids were in school (starting in the mid-70s). I’d like to know more about what immunizations are being given and why. I do understand that authorities are not worrying as much about unvaccinated children infecting vaccinated children as they are worried about the numbers of unvaccinated children growing and reaching a critical number of children who could then present a danger to each other and to children with compromised immune systems. It’s not an easy question, for certain, and I sympathize with BOTH sides, which is what makes it so hard to decide. It’s not like one side or the other is wrong — it’s who has the most compelling reason to hold an opinion. Not easy. No, sir.

  • Well it looks like VT is about to sign its own depopulation plan…thinking residents of Vermont will be leaving the State in droves to protect their children from the dangers of Big Pharma’s business plan. Take back your rights as parents and come on over to NH where we still have individual rights and can decide what is best for our children!!

  • Renée Carpenter

    Good points, Kelly & Rama.

    “This law is discriminating against the unvaccinated child,” (Cynthia Johnson) said. “It promotes the myth that these unvaccinated children will spread diseases among the vaccinated ones.”

    The tenor of this debate in our communities illustrates the power media continues to have on emotionally-evocative issues in the face of limited critical thinking skills, public relations campaigns by powerful entities, and “the fear factor” that often over-rides our value of basic human rights.

    For those who believe vaccines to be effective, how could an unvaccinated child have any impact on one who is already vaccinated? (And if they are not “that” effective, what is this really about?) Do we remember the PR campaigns on other vaccinations (swine & avian flues to name only two)? Why has there been so little media coverage on the statistics of vaccine injury, when we have many in our community who have suffered, and one recent death? We understand the “revolving door” phenomena and interlocking influences of other “industrial complexes” with government and the media; why aren’t we thinking about the Medical-Pharmaceutical Industrial complex and who has what to gain?

    One issue given little attention is the right for all individuals to have equal access to education: day care, public and private schools, college and university. Vermont is one of 20 states that currently allows for philosophical exemption. If Vermont passes this bill–in addition to the obvious–we will exclude people without the specific vaccination regime from Vermont educational institutions, including our state colleges and university.

    The role of government is to protect the rights of all citizens, including those in the minority. I am appalled that here in Vermont we are set to yield basic human rights so easily.

  • I am astounded that the VT Digger is permitting the VT DOH and Bill proponents to continue to misrepresent the statistics being used to promote this legislation.

    There is no under-vaccination in VT. The statistics the Bill proponents are citing do not measure the effect of Philosophical Exemptions on the VT School Required vaccines.

    The statistics they cite
    A) measure 19-35 month old pre-school children, who the majority in Vermont have no vaccination requirements

    B) for vaccines and dose timing, many of which Vermont does not require for any age children.

    Changing the Exemption rule will not even raise the rate they are using to justify the legislation- these vaccines and populations with the (relative) low uptake are not subject to requirements, therefore unrelated to the exemption rules.

    Vermont was just named the Healthiest State, with the 2nd best state rate (lowest) of infant mortality, and the 2nd best state rate (lowest) of infectious disease.

    There is no problem.

    On October 28th, 2011 VT DOH hosted an Immunization Conference. The information presented there is quite informative. Slide #12 of a Power Point presented by William V. Raszka, Jr., MD, detailed the results of a survey of 47 pediatric practices in 11 of Vermonts 13 counties. The practices include 44,452 patients (Vermont has less than 90,000 total school K-12 enrollment). Of those 44,452 only 435 are classified as “patients w/objections”, 1.06%.

    Parents using exemptions are not rabid anti-vaccination.

    When you here of “falling” immunization rates, is the constant addition of more vaccines to the schedule, therefore more opportunities to “fall”, disclosed? Many older people without young children have no idea of the scope of the current schedule, so when they hear “falling rates”, they think it is the “core” vaccines they grew up with. In 1995 there were 7 recommended vaccines, 1994 was 9 vaccines, and by 2010 16 vaccines are listed.

    For example, the CDC Recommended schedule says every person in the US 6 months and older should have 1 to 3 Flu injections annually, depending on age and whether there is a “novel” strain expected requiring a special formulation.

    A 5-year-old child who has not had 5 or more flu shots by the time he enrolls in Kindergarten is part of the “falling” vaccination rates. He is not “fully vaccinated”.

    HPV, a vaccine to prevent a sexually transmitted infection, has 3 doses recommended for every female age 11 and up. What did that recommendation do to the overall statistics?

    HPV was just recently added as a recommendation for all boys age 11 and up. What is this recommendation going to do to the statistics of what percentage of children are “fully vaccinated”?

    The HPV and Hepatitis B vaccines raise another question.

    The original, rational intent of school required vaccines was to prevent schools from being contagion hubs for highly infectious, dangerous diseases that are easily contracted in the classroom setting. HPV and Hepatitis B have infective profiles equal to HIV. The risk of student to student transmission of HIV is considered so low that law allows known HIV positive students to attend school. Yet without a philosophical exemption it is being proposed that a student who is simply not vaccinated for Hepatitis B be excluded from his constitutionally guaranteed, tax financed public education. Even though he is no infection threat to anyone, whether he is Hepatitis B positive or not.

    Doesn’t the inclusion of infections that cannot be contracted in the course of a normal school day represent an abuse of the School Attendance Requirement?

    It is perfectly appropriate for Public Health to encourage use of vaccines, but should it be able to keep a child out of school for not getting a shot for something he can neither transmit nor contract without engaging in intimate, probably illegal behavior?

    This legislation is not needed. Vermont schools have vaccination rates exceeding 95%, Vermont is a very healthy state, and parents who are using exemptions are doing so judiciously.

    Please see my previous post for more specifics about the incorrect statistics.
    ample exhibits here

    • Paula Bona

      I totally agree with what Mr.Kanthak has researched and stated in his comments. Why isn’t the media and the legislature paying more attention to what he and others who are well-informed have to say? Isn’t it the job of our government to “protect” our rights not take them away? Wouldn’t they be hoping to not have to pass this important bill restricting our human rights to informed consent for medical intervention? The original information given our legislators needs to be checked by them for accuracy.
      Is there a way for me to contact Mr. Kanthak directly?

  • Kelly Cummings

    Ms. O’Donnell, I did not say Mr. Mullin did not vote several times in favor of Act 48. I too am aware of his vote.

    I sat in at several of the committee meetings and hearings and because of some of his comments, I was not convinced he was a firm supporter of single payer health care but felt rather he supported single payer with reservations. I think this was also reflected in the tone of the amendments he offered.

    However, if you are implying that he is firmly in support of single payer healthcare then that is good news. I look forward to his full support of single payer in the future. I guess we wait and see.

    You may be right. Afterall…Mr. Mullin did say, “On the other hand, we in government have an obligation to protect the public health.” Single payer is definitely about protecting the public health.

    I will gladly stand corrected if I am wrong. Infact, I look forward to it.

    Thank you for your comments.

  • Follow the link below for a reasonable argument against the concerns of the vaccinated. If in fact the vaccines are so effective then there should be no fear of the unvaccinated, thereby eliminating the need for mandatory participation in the Big Pharma Hoax!

  • Kelly Cummings

    Isn’t there a big push by pharmaceutical companies to get states to start requiring vaccinations for all school age children? Wow, if this is so, think of the money they will make.

    And is anybody thinking about all the new vaccinations that will be coming down the pike? Remember the HPV vaccine?

    What if a parent wants to wait and see if there are any problems with a new vaccine? Which, if you think about it, makes sense…I mean how many times have we seen a pharmaceutical company recall a drug that was all the rage until it wasn’t? Of course by then they had already made their billions. Oh and some people died too.

    Did this bill just suddenly come out of nowhere?

    Are pharmaceutical companies behind this bill?

    Think twice before blaming parents who question vaccination safety.

    I’m sure they want to eradicate disease just as much as the next person. They just might be concerned, and justifiably so, that by eliminating one problem we might be creating another.

    Be kind. We are all in this together.

  • Jay Davis

    The herd immunity effect should protect all. Lets say only 10 or fewer kids not vaccinated, then who spreads it to the herd? Well, no one because the 99 percent are immunized.

  • Ann Erhard

    We need a vaccine against Chicken Pox
    That minor childhood disease???
    The dangers of the vaccine do NOT outweigh any possible “benefits”
    The “additives” to the vaccines are mercury, aluminum toxic metals.
    That is more than enough to say NO
    If vaccines are SO effective
    How can I make you sick if you are vaccinated?
    If they are effective which they are not.
    We don’t test, therefore we don’t “know”
    The statistics are all cooked up.

    Let’s hear it for sone ORGANIC FOOD and
    get a real life.