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

Comment Policy requires that all commenters identify themselves by their authentic first and last names. Initials, pseudonyms or screen names are not permissible.

No personal harrassment, abuse, or hate speech is permitted. Be succinct and to the point. Comments should be 1000 characters or fewer. If your comment is over 500 words, consider sending a commentary instead.

We personally review and moderate every comment that is posted here. This takes a lot of time; please consider donating to keep the conversation productive and informative.

The purpose of this policy is to encourage a civil discourse among readers who are willing to stand behind their identities and their comments. VTDigger has created a safe zone for readers who wish to engage in a thoughtful discussion on a range of subjects. We hope you join the conversation. If you have questions or concerns about our commenting platform, please review our Commenting FAQ.

Privacy policy
  • Barbara Krause

    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

    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 all its members with “full medical intervention”. If I do not want my child vaccinated, you will not get near my child. I hope others will express the same opinion. The “treat the heard” mentality is making the heard stupid, weak, and indebted. Intentionally or not, it is a society filled with obesity, diabetes, heart disease, cancer, autism, and on and on. No thank you. Individuals must be allowed to take there own avenue for maintaining their health. Society is under no obligation to do so.

  • 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 for mandatory vaccinations are above 91% in all 5 year olds, except for chickenpox at 88% because lots of people know that natural immunity to chickenpox is a better long-term protection against shingles as an adult).

    People, please wake up. This is nothing but an excuse to condition people to accept having their God-given constitutional rights taken away in the name of “public health” based on bogus data and corporate-lobbying.

  • Beth Broadsky

    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 nasal Flu vaccines can re-assort, causing brain damage and even death in some children.

    Parents need the right to a Philosophical Exemption to protect their children from an ever growing vaccine schedule that is not safe for all children. Parents need the right to spread out their children’s vaccines, and to have the right, themselves, to say “no” to booster shots of a vaccine that has already harmed their child.

    • Arthur Hamlin

      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

    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

    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

    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 blood? Why aren’t we all questioning this? How contagious is tetanus?? Why are the vaccinated worried about catching any of these things, and if they are worried then why aren’t they holding the vaccine manufacturers responsible for making the drug more effective? Why are so many of these illnesses being found in the vaccinated? There is a lot more homework to be done before we allow the government to take over control of what goes into our bodies. How about trying to mandate or force vaccinations on the adult population who can speak for themselves.?? Informed consent in medical intervention is a very personal and important right. Why would government even consider taking that right away??!! There is absolutely no data to support Vermont having low vaccination rates or high exemption rates whatsoever. This legislation is a waste of government time!!

  • Laurie Hanson

    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. I routinely care for FULLY vaccinated patients who are being treated for the very illness they were immunized against.

    The witch hunt must end. The notion that the non-immunized are hurting our “herd” is absurd. No studies prove that a non-vaccinated person is any more contagious or harmful than an immunized person. (Would that be done with a breathalizer perhaps????) Natural immunity is the only long term immunity available.

    My son has been sent home from day care and, just last year, camp, due to a whooping cough case. In both cases I removed my child from the group and had my son tested for pertussis, only to find out that my son’s tests were negative and the CARRIER WAS VACCINATED.

    Vaccines are not benign! Why are the manufacturer’s not LIABLE FOR HARM done by these inoculations if they are so safe??

    Protect our rights to informed consent and free choice! Call your reps and senators and let them know S199 is not good for Vermont!!!

  • Julia Kunkowski

    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 Cuba, yet we are the most heavily vaccinated in the world. Most Americans are unaware that the rates of diseases like measles, mumps, pertussis,etc. had all dropped 90% BEFORE vaccines were put into common use; due to improved nutrition, hygiene & sanitation. They are unaware because vaccines are a 25 billion dollar a year industry and Big Pharma wants to keep the American public sick and clueless.

  • Mary Lynne Isham

    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 to understand the implications of each vaccine, and I know that children are now offered far more vaccinations than my children were offered. I believe it is the right of every parent to decide which vaccinations and when they choose for their children, or if they do not choose any vaccinations. I am very much against mandatory vaccination of children as a requirement of them enrolling in public schools. I want every parent to have the choice of which chemicals are injected into their children’s bodies. I want the “opt-out for philosophical reasons” to left in our laws, and I want ALL children, regardless of vaccination status, to be allowed free access to public schools.

  • Karl Riemer

    “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 fits with your political convictions. You can assume sick children hurt all of us because that’s exactly what they do, because we’re civilized people and take care of sick children regardless of whether their parents are chest-thumping isolationists or new-age anti-intellectuals. Facts are facts. Opinions are optional and individual but facts are objective and in this case obvious to all but the obstinately oblivious.

    I don’t envy legislators wrestling with delicate questions of individual liberty vs. public welfare, especially when faced with loud and decidedly indelicate lobbying by people indifferent to public welfare. However, I want to say that the suggestion that doctors support vaccination for selfish reasons, that there’s a health lobby trying to coerce us into treatment for their own ends, is contemptible and a measure of the quality of the character of people espousing philosophical exemption. As close to true, and no less defamatory, would be the accusation that opponents of vaccination constitute a disease lobby, intent on resurrecting epidemics and returning us to the day not so long ago when seeing half your children reach adulthood was fortunate.

    Vaccination is a candidate for the best-outcome endeavor of human ingenuity in all of history, maybe the best thing we’ve ever done and maybe the best part of being alive right now, right here. Of course some people will say no. People jump off bridges all the time. Heck, if you offered to eliminate deadly diseases some people would find some reason to refuse. Oh, wait… bad example. Is there a more egregious analogy we can use? The point is there are philosophical, respectable reasons for any mindless self-destructive antisocial behavior you can imagine and some you can’t. That doesn’t make it inconsequential to the rest of us. That doesn’t mean bridge-jumpers have a right to force some poor schmo to fish them out of the drink. When it comes to public health, any philosophical exemption (no less religious exemption) is a sociopathic exercise.

    And may I say, advocating preserving philosophic exemption to buy time to catch up on immunization is ridiculous. Philosophic exemption is conviction. Failing to get all your shots (even “just missing one”) is something else entirely. Confusing the two is evidence of weak reasoning or weak resolve, hiding from controversy behind desultory details. Stand up and think.

  • 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 Vermont being named the Healthiest State in the country for the 2nd or 3rd year in a row? Vermont’s place as the second best infant mortality rate, and the second best infectious disease rate in the country?”

    Why did observers of the committee hearings last week report that Representative Till seemed as unfamiliar with the actual Vermont school vaccination rates as the other members? Wasn’t Till’s study of this subject the driver of his initiating the action?

    Does anybody really think this legislation originated in Vermont?

    What are Pharma lobbyists doing in town, pushing for these bills?

    Someone should file a Public Records request for communications between all the bill promoters and find out what the real deal is.

    Below are detailed documents describing the shenanigans that have been pulled on Vermont.

  • Curtis Sinclair

    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 was introduced in 1955. An average of over 35,000 cases were reported during 1940s and early 1950 in the US. It paralyzed or killed over half a million people worldwide every year. With the introduction of Salk inactivated poliovirus vaccine (IPV) in 1955, the number of US cases rapidly declined to under 2,500 cases in 1957. By 1965, only 61 cases of paralytic polio were reported in the US.

Thanks for reporting an error with the story, "Immunization bill likely to stall in House committee"