Immunization bill likely to stall in House committee

Immunization bill likely to stall in House committee

Rep. George Till. File photo by Josh Larkin

Rep. George Till. File photo by Josh Larkin

The House Committee on Health Care marked a significant policy shift Tuesday, when a majority of the committee said it would oppose removing a philosophical exemption for parents who choose not to vaccinate their children.

Five of eight members said in a straw poll Tuesday morning that they were opposed to removing the exemption.

A bill in the Senate that would remove the exemption passed with an overwhelming majority earlier this session. But the bill saw fierce debate in the House, and on Thursday night a compromise that would have kept the exemption failed on a tie vote. It is unclear at this point whether it will make it to the House floor.

Proponents of removing the exemption say it will serve the public good by ensuring adequate numbers of children in the state are vaccinated.

Opponents of the Senate bill, including a coalition of parents, say the fears that not enough children in Vermont are vaccinated are blown out of proportion, and removing the exemption would take away parental choice.

Under the Senate bill, if parents did not vaccinate their children and did not qualify for a medical or religious exemption, they would not be able to enroll in school. Vermont is one of 20 states that allow for the so-called philosophical exemption.

The committee considered a compromise of sorts Tuesday, where schools would identify how many children were not vaccinated.

Rep. Jim Eckhardt, who opposes removing the exemption, said the Senate version of the bill would mean kids who are just missing one vaccine could not go to school.

“A lot of these kids are partially immunized and working toward full immunization; they just haven’t gotten there,” Eckhardt said. “I don’t see a big enough problem to make such a drastic change.”

Rep. George Till, a medical doctor who introduced a separate bill that would remove the philosophical exemption, said his concern is with kids getting sick at school.

“I feel like the central question is the level of risk unvaccinated kids bring to school,” Till said.

If the House bill passes with the philosophical exemption intact, it would likely go to a conference committee where members of the House and Senate committees could reconcile the differences between the two. Rep. Mike Fisher, the committee chair and one of three members who support removing the exemption, would most certainly be on the committee. Only one member of the Senate Committee on Health and Welfare, Anthony Pollina, voted against the bill on the other side of the Legislature.

Fisher, who used the philosophical exemption for his own child, supports removing it now, along with Rep. Leigh Dakin and Till. Fisher said his change of heart came from looking at the issue through the lens of public policy.

“The question for me is an entirely different question from a public policy standpoint as it is for an individual parent,” Fisher said.

Another proposal by Gov. Peter Shumlin and Department of Health Commissioner Harry Chen got lukewarm reactions.

Under the proposal, parents could only use a philosophical exemption if a doctor signed a form saying he or she had educated the patient about the risks.

Chen said, “The governor and I are in support of ensuring parents have the appropriate education and consultation.”

But Till said the idea wouldn’t sit with pediatricians.

“I urge you not to go down that route of trying to force docs to do something they really believe they should not do,” Till said.

He said pediatricians are generally against allowing parents to opt out of vaccinations using the exemption, and it would be against their ethics to sign off on the parents’ choice not to vaccinate their children.

Parents who want to keep the philosophical exemption say the proposal to make public the number of children in schools who are unvaccinated could have unintended consequences.

Jennifer Stella, leader of the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice, said the proposal “would be stirring up fear mongering to divide our communities.”

The compromise to make public the number of children in a school who are unvaccinated, Stella said, could lead some parents to move their children to a different school.

“You can’t assume that an unvaccinated child is a pocket of contagion we need to worry about,” she said. “That’s discrimination.”

Stella, who has worked persistently to organize parents who want to keep the philosophical exemption, said she hoped the bill would die in committee.

She said she thinks lobbyists for pharmaceutical companies are attempting to influence the legislation in order to ensure more children are vaccinated, and they make more money.

Rep. Leigh Dakin, a member of the committee who is also a school nurse, said people want to know that information, in a similar manner that they would want to know if a child in a class has a peanut allergy to ensure that someone doesn’t bring snacks into the class that would make the child sick. In both cases, the child’s identification is not divulged.

Eckhardt disagreed.

“It seems like a backdoor way of getting to the unimmunized. I don’t like it,” he said.

Eckhardt said parents could send kids to another school if children in their school have a high rate of unimmunized students.

“It’s a way to get more public outcry to come to this body to control immunizations,” he said.

The bill should head to the House floor later this week.

Alan Panebaker

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14 Comments on "Immunization bill likely to stall in House committee"


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Barbara Krause
4 years 9 months ago

Parents of school aged children do not need to worry about some else’s unvaccinated child. If your child is properly immunized, she cannot catch the disease they are so worried about!!! It is the unimminizwd child that suffers and can only spread a contagious disease to another unimminized child. To say that parents would move their children to a different school because of pockets of children lacking the correct vaccines is uneducated

timothy k price
4 years 9 months ago
As a society, we could save ourselves a whole lot of problems if someone would let it be known that the group does not have to save every individual who is sick. There should be no mandate that says medical attention above the most basic, has to be given to everyone. Forget it. Besides, not everyone, by a long shot, is interested in what the AMA or the drug industry has in mind if they do get hold of us to “treat”. No, AMA healthcare is not a human right, it is not an obligation that society take care of… Read more »
4 years 9 months ago
Fisher is such an unbelievable hypocrite. Knock Knock: informed consent and personal choice is the bedrock of health care according to the UN and the US Supreme Court, but what do they know. Any medicine that is actually valid and valuable will be used and appreciated by people and doctors under informed consent. IF vaccines work so well, how come the majority of whooping cough cases last winter were in people who had BEEN VACCINATED? If vaccines work, why would the corporate-ruled govt need to FORCE people to take them? This is total insanity about a non-issue (Vt’s vax rates… Read more »
Beth Broadsky
4 years 9 months ago
God bless you, Rep. Jim Eckhardt. I hope the people of Vermont know how extremely lucky they are to have you in office. Mandated medicine is bad medicine, and it makes for bad public health policy. Not all children can handle the vaccine schedule, which explains the new number of 1 in 88 children afflicted with brain damage (aka autism) in our country. Vaccines contain a lot of neurotoxic aluminum and some still contain trace amounts of mercury (or full amounts of 25 mcg of mercury as in the Flu shot.) Live, attenuated viral antigens in the MMR, Varicella, and… Read more »
Arthur Hamlin
4 years 9 months ago

Vaccinations have absolutely nothing to do with autism. That report has been disproven and discredited. Mandatory vaccinations have saved countless lives and prevented countless severe and disabling illnesses. The fears being voiced by a few parents are based on misinformation at best.

Jessica Bernier
4 years 9 months ago

As a parent I would like to know when students in my children’s school have been vaccinated for seasonal influenza as the CDC has informed me that though “serious” illness is rare, transmission of flu virus from vaccinated to unvaccinated people is a reality.

Susie Snow
4 years 9 months ago

It is unfortunate that Till chooses not to use the word ‘parents’, instead of ‘docs’, in the following quote (think forced immunization).

“I urge you not to go down that route of trying to force docs to do something they really believe they should not do,” Till said.

He is incredibly concerned with the ethics of doctors, but dismisses parental rights.

paula bona
4 years 9 months ago
What is the data to support taking away the philosophical exemption which would allow parents to make informed choices about what is injected into their children’s bodies? To deny a free public education to a child opting out of any one vaccine is undemocratic to say the least. And what is the data to support the safety and or efficacy of EACH vaccine as they are all not equally safe or effective?? Why would a 5 year old or a 1 day old child for that matter need a Hep B vaccination when it is only passed sexually or by… Read more »
Laurie Hanson
4 years 9 months ago
I am the mother of 2 teenagers and a RN. The fear based reasoning behind forced immunization leads to a violation of my rights (and my children’s) to informed medical consent and privacy. Anyone in the healthcare industry knows that Merck & Pfizer spend many hours in the offices of our healthcare providers. The information most pediatricians and family practice docs convey to their patients is NOT balanced, objective or educational. Hospitals are given a “credit” for each vaccine they give, to be used towards next year’s purchase of vaccines. It is @ $1000 per patient at some VT facilities.… Read more »
Julia Kunkowski
4 years 9 months ago
Since Congress gave all vaccine manufacturers absolute immunity from any & all lawsuits in the 1980s the mandated vaccine schedule went from 10 before the age of 6 to 36 jabs with the majority given by the age of 2 and the autism epidemic was born.They have no reason to make a safe product. The rates of autism, as well as childhood asthma & allergies all rose on a parallel with the greatly increased # of shots. Prior to all this, the US ranked in the top 10 of infant mortality. We currently are 36th, behind 3rd world countries like… Read more »
Mary Lynne Isham
4 years 9 months ago
I am a mother and a grandmother. I first learned about childhood vaccination options for NOT vaccinating children while I was on the board of a pre-school 40 years ago. I educated myself then because I was the person in charge of making sure parents either provided vaccination proof or provided the opt-out forms to me for their children’s registration process. I took great care to learn about and understand the many sides of that issue then, and I have continued to educate myself throughout the years. Though I chose to allow vaccination of my children, I was careful then… Read more »
Karl Riemer
4 years 9 months ago
“You can’t assume that an unvaccinated child is a pocket of contagion we need to worry about,” she said. “That’s discrimination.” Well, yes it is. The implication is that there’s something wrong with discrimination, that discrimination = poor discrimination. Discrimination is the ability, and the will, to differentiate. We need more discrimination right now, not less. We need people to quit basing what they think on how they feel or their infinitesimal personal experience and anecdotes. You can assume unvaccinated children are potential pockets of contagion because that’s exactly what they are, regardless of how that sounds or feels or… Read more »
4 years 9 months ago
The State already publishes the school by school information. It is at You can view very detailed, filterable excel files from 07 to 11. The files very clearly show that the Phil Ex rate went up when Chicken Pox was added in 08, and that the bulk of the Phil Exemptions in use today are for that vaccine. This issue has been misrepresented from the first press conference. VT citizens should be asking themselves, “What were the conditions that caused the Bill sponsors to suddenly this year, “independently”, consider the Phil Ex a problem and introduce legislation? Was it… Read more »
Curtis Sinclair
4 years 9 months ago
Measles killed several children in a 1991 outbreak. All of them were unvaccinated. Vaccinations are not 100% effective so unvaccinated children are putting vaccinated children at some risk. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, most childhood vaccines are 90-99% effective in preventing disease. When children who have been vaccinated do contract a disease, despite being vaccinated against it, they usually have milder symptoms with less serious complications than an un-vaccinated child that gets the same disease. Polio used to be very common in the U.S. and caused severe illness in thousands of people each year before polio vaccine… Read more »
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