Immunization Bill Moves Forward

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(Host) One of the most controversial bills of the 2012 session will soon be on the Senate floor for a vote.

The legislation would make it more difficult for parents to have their children exempted from the state’s mandatory immunization law.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports:

(Kinzel) For the past few weeks, members of the Senate Health and Welfare committee have received thousands of emails and phone calls on both sides of this bill.

Vermont has a mandatory immunization law but there are 3 exemptions. A parent can refuse to have their child immunized for religious reasons, if the child has a serious medical condition or for "philosophical" reasons.

The Vermont Health Department estimates that roughly 40 percent of all children under the age of 3 have not had their full schedule of immunizations and the "philosophical" exemption if often cited as one of the major reasons why the rate is so low.

By a vote of 3 to 1, the Senate Health and Welfare committee is backing a bill to eliminate this exemption.  Rutland senator Kevin Mullin is the lead sponsor of the legislation.

(Mullin) "It was not an easy decision to make because you’re basically taking a look at the rights of the parent, the individual to make a decision and any time government starts to take away someone’s rights it’s quite controversial."

(Kinzel) But after looking at the research, Mullin says it was clear that the philosophical exemption was doing more harm than good.

(Mullin) "We’re faced with the very, very difficult decision to make on trying to do what’s right for the public good…clearly the benefits of vaccinations far exceed the risks and in order to protect the public health I didn’t really see that there was any other choice but to remove the philosophical exemption."

(Kinzel) But Washington senator Anthony Pollina came to a very different conclusion.

(Pollina) "I think you balance the need for public health with the rights of parents and we’ve had this exemption in place for quite some time. It’s worked well for our community. We’ve had parents who are educated making choices about vaccinations and I think it’s totally appropriate to continue to allow that to happen."

(Kinzel) It now appears likely that the legislation will be on the Senate floor by the end of the week, and if it passes, it will then be considered in the House.


For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier

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