House Committee Breaks With Senate On Immunization Debate

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(Host) The House Health Care committee is struggling with a bill that deals with exemptions to Vermont’s mandatory childhood immunization law.

The committee has voted not to follow the lead of the Senate and eliminate the philosophical exemption to the law. Instead, the panel has adopted a plan to provide more education to parents about the benefits of immunization.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) There are currently three exemptions to Vermont’s childhood immunization law: for medical reasons, for religious beliefs or on philosophical grounds.

According to the state Health Department, Vermont has one of the lowest compliance rates in the country for the full battery of childhood immunizations.  

Last month, the Senate gave its strong approval to a bill that eliminates the philosophical exemption as a way to boost overall immunization rates.  But opponents argued the legislation was a blow against the rights of parents to make decisions involving the health and safety of their children.

Jericho Rep. George Till is a doctor and a strong backer of the effort to eliminate the philosophical exemption. He argues that the exemption puts too many children at risk.

(Till) "If I am right we will have failed in our primary duty which is to protect Vermonters. And we might very well be committing Vermont kids to a decade of these diseases."

(Kinzel) But Chittenden Rep. Jim Eckhardt said Vermont’s childhood immunization rates are better than they appear and he sees no reason to drop the philosophical exemption.

(Eckhardt) "A lot of these kids are partially immunized and working towards full immunization they just haven’t got there yet. So I really wonder how big this problem is that we’re trying to fix."

(Kinzel) Lincoln Rep. Michael Fisher is the chair of the committee. He felt it was important to provide some additional funds to the Health Department’s immunization outreach program.

(Fisher) "I hope that we make sure that the Department of Health has the resources to address the needs in the communities. They are spots around our state with relatively lower immunization rates and I believe those particular communities deserve some added attention."

(Kinzel) And Fisher wants all schools to report their immunization rates for a variety of vaccines.

(Fisher) "When I send my child to school I think it’s a useful piece of information to know what the immunization rates are."

(Kinzel) The battle over the philosophical exemption may not be over because opponents of the exemption may try to amend this bill when it comes up for consideration on the House floor.

For VPR News, I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier






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