House Rejects Effort To Eliminate Philosophical Exemption

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(Host) After several hours of debate, the House last night rejected an effort to eliminate the philosophical exemption to the state’s mandatory childhood immunization law.

The vote on the amendment was 93 to 36.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) This bill has become one of the most emotional issues facing lawmakers this year because it pits public health concerns against the rights of parents to determine health decisions involving their children.

There are three exemptions to Vermont’s mandatory childhood immunization law; for medical reasons, for religious beliefs and for philosophical concerns.

According to the state Health Department, Vermont has one of the lowest compliance rates for the full battery of immunizations. In an effort to boost these rates, the Senate passed a bill that eliminates the philosophical exemption.

But House Health Care chairman Michael Fisher said his panel rejected that approach in favor of a plan to beef up public education efforts and to have all schools report their immunization rates.

(Fisher) "After a great deal of time and effort the Health care committee determined that that was not the tool we wanted to use. Some debated whether it would be effective, some debated whether it was warranted given the current situation and we choose a bit of a different path."

(Kinzel) The big fight in the House concerned an amendment offered by Barre City Rep. Paul Poirier to remove the philosophical exemption.

Poirier said roughly 1 out of every 6 Vermont kindergarten students hasn’t been fully immunized and he says that poses a health risk to other students.

(Poirier) "We know from the Health Department that those numbers are increasing. So if you think having 16 percent of your kindergarten students is nothing to be worried about then I guess you don’t share with me the belief that we should do away with the philosophical exemption."

(Kinzel) Newport Rep. Duncan Kilmartin defended the use of the philosophical exemption and he urged House members to reject the amendment.

(Kilmartin) "It says to you and me who don’t bear scientific credentials, who don’t bear medical credentials that we’re stupid. That we’re they uninitiated that we don’t deserve to exercise those rights which as guaranteed to us in the Constitution."

(Kinzel) The legislation is scheduled to come up for final approval in the House on Friday. A House-Senate conference committee will then try to resolve the different versions of the bill.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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