'Leave It Alone': Shumlin Weighs In On Philosophical Vaccine Exemption

Feb 4, 2015

As a measles outbreak that began in Disneyland stirs up a national conversation about childhood vaccination, lawmakers are taking up the issue in Montpelier.

The debate centers on whether parents should be allowed to send their kids to public schools if they choose not to have them vaccinated through the state's "philosophical exemption."

It's separate from the medical and religious exemptions to mandatory immunization. The provision allows parents to opt against vaccinating their kids for any reason.

A law that passed in 2012 after intense debate maintained the long-standing philosophical exemption and required the state to collect and publish data about immunization rates.

A new bill this year would eliminate the philosophical exemption all together. But that legislation does not have support from Gov. Peter Shumlin, who would ultimately have to sign it into law.

"Leave it alone," Shumlin said of the exemption. But his reluctance about the legislation is not because he thinks vaccines are a threat to Vermont's children.

"We have to find the balance between what we believe and individual liberties." - Gov. Peter Shumlin

"There's just no doubt that it makes really common sense to vaccinate your kids against horrible diseases that used to take our ancestors from us and that we've now got the medical capacity to avoid," Shumlin said Wednesday.

But Shumlin says he doesn't believe the state should bar children from school if their parents choose not to vaccinate.

"We have to find the balance between what we believe and individual liberties," he said.

Those words are very similar to comments by New Jersey Governor Chris Christie earlier this week that earned him criticism nationally for deferring to a group with views contradictory to accepted science.

Whether the Vermont legislature agrees remains unclear, but it's a debate likely to bring out passionate advocates on both sides of the issue.