Like it or not, the controversy over vaccines continues unabated. Consider Vermont. The state legislature is locked in a heated debate over whether to end the "philosophical exemption," which gives parents a right of refusal for avoiding immunizations when they enroll their children in school or child care.
Vermont already has one of the highest rates among states in which kindergarteners have been exempt from vaccines, according to an Associated Press analysis, which found its 6 percent rate trailed only 7 percent in Colorado and 9 percent in Alaska during the 2010-2011 school year, the latest year for which data is available.
Meanwhile, Christine Finley, immunization program manager at the state Health Department, tells the AP the percentage of kindergarteners with all required immunizations fell to 83 percent in 2010 from 93 percent in 2005. In her view, the high exemption rate accounts for recent outbreaks of pertussis, or whooping cough. The Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice says the decline is exaggerated, since kids are counted as unvaccinated if they miss any of 20 required shots.
As the legislative session draws to a close, lawmakers are at an impasse. The state Senate voted 26-4 last month to eliminate the philosophical exemption, while the House voted 93-36 this month to keep the status quo. If the bill dies, Verrmont will remain among the 20 states that allow some form of philosophical exemption from required childhood immunizations, the AP writes. All but a handful of states offer religious exemptions, and all allow medical exemptions.
Vermont House Speaker Shap Smith says the state motto, "Freedom and Unity," is in play. "It's a balance between individual rights and our obligations to each other in society," he tells the AP. One lawmaker who wants to end the exemption complains parents who fail to immunize their children are irresponsible. "The question is whether they have the right to endanger other children in the school setting," says George Till, a Democrat and obstetrician-gynecologist.
Meanwhile, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin is siding with the House plan for more education on immunization rather than a Senate push to remove the exemption. The AP notes this is a flip flop from the position his own health commissioner pushed for earlier this year.
"I do not believe that, in the end, the government should dictate to parents what inoculations their kids have to get in order to get a public education in Vermont," he tells the AP. He wants Vermont to "start with more education, to separate the myths that you read about on the Internet with the facts that health care providers will give you on this."
vaccine pic thx to lulu on flickr