New Bill Would Require Pertussis Vaccine

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The Shumlin Administration says it won’t support legislation that’s designed to deal with an outbreak of pertussis in Vermont. Health Commissioner Harry Chen says his department can make solid progress on this issue without engaging in a legislative battle that it’s likely to lose.

Last year, the battle over legislation removing the philosophical exemption from the state’s mandatory childhood immunization law was one of the most contentious debates of the session.

In the end, the scope of legislation was significantly scaled back after a group of parents, opposed to mandatory vaccinations, successfully fought against the original bill.

Jericho Rep. George Till was at the eye of the storm last year and he’s just introduced a new bill that would remove the philosophical and religious exemptions for pertussis vaccinations. Till says the legislation is needed because Vermont is facing an outbreak of pertussis. In 2011, just under 100 cases were reported but last year this number jumped to 645.

"I think that we’ve had a lot more cases of pertussis since last year. I truly think we had a chance to be pro active last year the numbers this fall were very high," said Till. "The people asking well where’s the problem the answer should be obvious."

Till is very concerned that the outbreak will put young toddlers at risk.

"When a child brings this home from school and has a young sibling at home we’re dealing with a very, very dangerous situation," said Till.  "So yes in my mind it out weighs the taking away the right to not have your child vaccinated and to send them to a public school."

Health Commissioner Harry Chen says his department has taken many steps to deal with the pertussis outbreak and he thinks they’re making progress.

"Two things that I think are important to this discussion is that pertussis cases the numbers seem to be going down so we’ve already reached the peak, knock on wood," said Chen. "And then finally the majority of cases of kids that develop pertussis were already vaccinated."

And Chen says there are better ways to tackle this problem than re-opening the debate at the Statehouse.

"I think really it’s almost a resource decision about where you want to put your efforts and I think we can make more progress getting kids vaccinated in schools and in doctor’s offices than we can trying to battle it out in the Legislature with likely the same result as last year."

Till’s legislation would also require all adults working at public schools to be vaccinated against pertussis. The bill will be reviewed by House Health Care committee.

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