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.”

Alan Panebaker

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13 Comments on "Senate gives initial approval to vaccination bill"


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Kelly Cummings
4 years 10 months ago

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?

4 years 10 months ago

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

Meg O'Donnell
4 years 10 months ago

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
4 years 10 months ago
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… Read more »
4 years 10 months ago

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
4 years 10 months ago
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… Read more »
4 years 10 months ago
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… Read more »
Paula Bona
4 years 10 months ago

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
4 years 10 months ago
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.… Read more »
4 years 10 months ago

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
4 years 10 months ago
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… Read more »
Jay Davis
4 years 10 months ago

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
1 year 10 months ago

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.

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