(Host) The Vermont House is expected to debate legislation that’s designed to increase Vermont’s childhood immunization rates in the near future.
The House bill leaves the philosophical exemption in place and House Speaker Shap Smith says the proposal is a good first step to help educate the public about the issue.
VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:
(Kinzel) The immunization bill has provoked more emotion and debate than almost any other piece of legislation this session. According to the state Health Department, Vermont has one of the lowest rates for the full battery of childhood immunizations.
There are three exemptions to the state’s mandatory childhood immunization law; for medical reasons, for religious beliefs and on philosophical grounds.
On a strong vote, the Senate eliminated the philosophical exemption, but things changed dramatically when the House took up the bill.
Supporters of the exemption argued that the Health Department’s statistics didn’t take into consideration all the children who are partially immunized and they framed the issue as a parent’s right to determine what’s best for their child.
Late last week, the House Health Care committee put the exemption back in the bill, supported a 40 thousand dollar public education program, and asked all schools to disclose their immunization rates.
Lincoln Rep. Michael Fisher is the chairman of the committee. He was hoping for a stronger bill:
(Fisher) "The committee is clearly not with me. And I’m going to support the committee process to take the steps that are available to us to do what we can to educate the public to make resources available to the Department of Health to target communities that have lower vaccination rates."
(Kinzel) House Speaker Shap Smith says he supports the committee’s approach because he’s not sure that eliminating the exemption would necessarily be effective:
(Smith) "I think we ought to be trying to increase the vaccination rates but the question is if by removing the philosophical exemption are we going to do that ? Are people going to just move into the religious exemption instead? Are they going to pull their kids out of school? There are different ways to approach the same goal."
(Kinzel) It’s possible that backers of the plan to eliminate the philosophical exemption will try to amend the bill when it comes up for debate on the House floor.
For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.