Health Care

Lobbyists, activists make final push on immunization bill

A bill that would prohibit parents from opting out of school requirements for student vaccinations is heating up again. The so-called “philosophical exemption” clause, which exists under current law, allows parents to choose not to vaccinate their children because of philosophical objections. The proposed statute doesn’t affect the religious or medical exemptions.

The House Health Care Committee is poised to vote the bill, S.199, out this week.

Advocates on both sides of S.199 are lobbying lawmakers, and on Wednesday, they held back-to-back press conferences at the Statehouse.

The philosophical exemption for vaccinations is far stronger in Vermont than the religious exemption. About 5.5 percent to 6 percent of school-age children are unvaccinated for philosophical reasons as opposed to 0.2 percent for religious reasons, according to Rep. George Till, D-Chittenden, a medical doctor who introduced the House bill.

Members of the pro-vaccine camp say that unvaccinated children pose a potential public health risk because they can pass on infections to younger children and at-risk populations including the elderly, HIV positive, chemotherapy patients, and anyone with a chronic disease.

Vaccination rates for polio, MMR, and DTaP (diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis) dropped almost 5 percent for children entering kindergarten between 2005 and 2010, from 96.9 percent, 95.3 percent and 93.3 percent to 91.6 percent, 91.9 percent and 91.3 percent respectively, according to Till.

Till said that Vermont had seen a rise in cases of vaccine-preventable diseases, including 93 cases of pertussis (whooping cough) in the first three months of 2012, equal to the total number of cases in 2011.

“Some people will tell you that we don’t really need this legislation right now, that we don’t have a crisis,” Till said. A local hospital saw a case of the mumps two weeks ago and a case of the measles a year ago, he said.

Till and other health care providers attempted to defend vaccines against a variety of misconceptions about potential side effects [handout] including a controversial 1998 study linking the MMR vaccine and autism which has since been retracted. They also spoke about the high health-care costs associated with treating preventable diseases.

“The National Academy of Sciences took a very impartial approach whether particular vaccines have a particular adverse reaction,” said Till. “What they said was vaccines offer some of the best public health tools available to medicine and although there are complications to vaccines that need to be acknowledged, most of the adverse events reported in relation to vaccines are not caused by vaccines.”

Parents respond

In a press conference held immediately afterward, the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice delivered a petition signed online by over 1,372 Vermonters in support of philosophical exemption.

Members of the coalition argue that vaccination choice is a fundamental human right, and seek to inform parents of the possible side effects of vaccination.

“I support vaccination choice as a human right. I think that human rights and ethical medicine support that view. There’s a 2005 UN universal declaration of bio-ethics and human rights, that says prior, free, and informed consent is required for all preventive diagnostic and preventive interventions. So that includes vaccination,” said Mary S. Holland, a lawyer who spoke at the press conference on her testimony in support of the philosophical exemption at House Health Care.

Holland also expressed concern about the side effects of vaccines, which can include anaphylaxis, vaccine strain measles, vaccine strain polio; they include encephalitis (brain damage, brain swelling), and death.

Holland’s comments about patient rights were echoed by coalition member Dorian Yates, who said that many parents were concerned by the lack of information provided by health care professionals prior to vaccination, which did not amount to informed consent.

“It’s about medical choice. It’s about transparency and government and corporate transparency. My profound feeling is that people need to be well informed and make decisions about their health based on being well informed and well educated,” Yates said.

“My feeling is that you need to level the playing field – you can’t say something is informed consent if you one, don’t have the information; two, don’t have the right to refuse it. That’s not informed consent, that’s informed coercion, informed mandate.”

Several of the parents present said they were not against all immunization, such as polio or DTaP, but that data had been skewed by parents who did not want to immunize against the chickenpox.

Even if a parent vaccinates for all other diseases their child is considered unvaccinated by state law if they do not receive the relatively new varicella (chickenpox) vaccine, which was introduced in the United States in 1995.

“We are talking about 500 children in the whole state, and this petition was signed by 1,300. So this issue impacts broadly more than just those who are trying to opt out of the vaccination, this is about keeping our choice alive, to say yes or no under an informed consent framework,” said a coalition member.

Vermont has not had any cases of mandated quarantine, like San Diego in 2008, though some coalition members said they would be willing to go through a self-administered quarantine if their children contacted a highly contagious disease such as measles.

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Erin Hale

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  • Mike Feiner

    It’s pretty simple folks, “religious” convictions ARE philosophical convictions! If one goes, they both go! End of story.

  • Alex Barnham

    No one has the “right” to inject my child with anything without my express permission. End of story.

  • Lisa Boisvert

    Harry Chan the sate health commissioner is misleading the people of Vermont by claiming our state has low rates of vaccination. This is untrue.

    For to years in a row Vermont has been considered THE healthiest state in the nation. Our rates of vaccination for measles, mumps, ruebella, polio, diptheria, Hepatitis B, tetanus and pertussis EXCEED the CDC recommendations. It is chicken pox where parents are opting out.

    The state of Vermont exceeds the CDC recommendations for vaccines for childhood illnesses. We lag behind in chicken pox because many parents choose to opt out of this ONE vaccine.

    Do we have a problem?

  • I want VT Digger to explore the relationship between ALEC and the introduction of this bill by Senator Kevin Mullin.

    On July 13, 2011, the Center for Media and Democracy unveiled this trove of over 800 “model” bills and resolutions secretly voted on by corporations and politicians through the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). These bills reveal the corporate collaboration reshaping our democracy, state by state.

    ALEC bills, which largely benefit the organization’s corporate members, have been introduced in legislatures in every state—but without disclosing to the public that corporations previously drafted or voted on them through ALEC.

    Vermont Legislators with ALEC Ties

    House of Representatives
    Rep. Gregory Clark (R-3)[20]
    Former Rep. Patricia O’Donnell (former R-1, did not run for reelection in 2010), former ALEC State Chairman[20]
    Rep. Robert Helm (R/D-2), ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Member
    Rep. James McNeil (R/D-1), ALEC Energy, Environment and Agriculture Task Force Member

    Assistant Minority Leader Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), ALEC State Chairman[200]
    Sen. Margaret (Peg) Flory (R-3), ALEC Public Safety and Elections Task Force Member

    • Renée Carpenter

      My thoughts exactly!

  • Kristin Andrade

    Did Corporations sponsor this bill through our legislators that we elected?

  • Gerry Silverstein

    In this article comments from Mary Holland are detailed: “Holland also expressed concern about the side effects of vaccines, which can include anaphylaxis, vaccine strain measles, vaccine strain polio.

    The current polio vaccine used in the USA is an inactivated (dead) viral vaccine and incapable of causing polio.

    Parents might be told that the inactivated (“Salk”) vaccine has caused paralytic disease in the past. Sadly this is true. When the inactivated vaccine was first introduced in the middle of the 20th century, early lots of the vaccine were not purified to the extraordinarily high standards that they are today. Unfortunately some live virus persisted in the early days of the inactivation process. But that was over 50 years ago, and vaccine lots today are very carefully monitored to ensure they contain no live virus.

    In developing nations of the world a live polio virus vaccine is used (for a number of very good reasons… but not to be detailed here), and cases of polio have occurred due to reversion to virulence of the live virus vaccine strain. It is also true that the live vaccine has prevented many millions of cases of paralytic polio and prevented many hundreds of thousands of deaths due to the poliovirus found in nature. The Global Polio Eradication campaign now underway will be one of the great achievements of humanity when the World Health Organization detects no new cases for a period of 3 years.

    It is possible to have an honest and informed discussion about the risks and benefits of vaccines. What is required is for interested parties to speak constructively, and come prepared to listen and learn.

  • Jen Gerstman

    What I don’t understand is how folks are so outraged by a mandated federal health care insurance, but don’t care at all if government tries to force medication upon every citizen.

    • Good question. We may end up with mandated health care insurance that forces mandated drugs of every sort on us: vaccines, behavioral drugs for children, medications for everything and it will all come wrapped in an online tracking package by which anyone with a thought of their own can be indentifed with the tap of a button.

  • Arthur Hamlin

    They could make it easy. Just don’t allow unvaccinated children into public school, when the parents have to homeschool them they might change their mind.

    But less sarcastically, the benefits of vaccinations can’t be overstated. On the other hand the fears that prevent these parents from protecting their kids are unfounded, by and large.

    • Lisa Boisvert

      Re Arthur

      Too much of a good thing is not a good thing, The Pharmaceuticals are introducing more and more vaccines, many of which are not necessary or appropriate to the target age group (chicken pox and Hep B for infants, for example) If a parent wants to go along with the full schedule, that option is available. If a parent wants to wait, the PE allows for that. The philosophical exemption allows parents to draw the line and decide what vaccines may make a difference for their child and what vaccines are superfluous.It provides a sort of check and balance for the drug manufacturers who are immune from all liability for their products.

  • Steve Harrington

    Today the most recent autism numbers came out. Massive increases. Some due to tracking perhaps, but there is clearly a large increase. Parallels increase in vaccinations. Researchers posit the source to be neurotoxins with exposure in early childhood. Aluminum is a neurotoxin, to which young children are exposed massively in the form of vaccines.

    This bill is about Merck selling chicken pox vaccines, and a whole host of other vaccines coming down the pike, that are unnecessary but lucrative. Vaccine effects are NOT well-researched, and to legally coerce people into taking them is reckless, irresponsible, and fascist. Most doctors know nothing but what the drug companies tell them. And its the drug companies who are paying lobbyists to push this bill, not public health saints.

  • The issue of immunization is definitely a sensitive one, I can understand why parents are so concerned