Senate Votes To Remove Philosophical Vaccine Exemption

Apr 22, 2015

The Vermont Senate has voted to end the philosophical exemption some parents use to decline to have their children vaccinated.

The legislation, which passed the Senate Wednesday in an 18-11 vote, would require the full range of required vaccinations as a pre-condition to enrolling in school.

Update 5:08 p.m. Under Vermont law, before a student enters public or private kindergarten, the child needs to be immunized for measles, polio, mumps and rubella, hepatitis B, and diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis.

There are three exemptions available for parents: for medical conditions, for religious beliefs and for philosophical reasons. According to the Vermont Department of Health, parents of roughly 5 percent of all public kindergarten students claim an exemption for at least one of the vaccines. The department says the vast majority of exemptions are for philosophical reasons.

Rutland Sen. Kevin Mullin is a sponsor of the plan to eliminate the philosophical exemption. He says it's critical to protect those children who can't be vaccinated for medical reasons. "[Those who] have a compromised immune system; they have leukemia; they may have some other disease where they just cannot be vaccinated. Once that herd immunity level goes below a certain threshold, you have a problem, and there are certain areas and pockets of the state where we're at very dangerous levels,” says Mullin.

"Considering there is evidence of individuals having basically allergic reactions to shots, if we ... force everybody to have them, there are a percentage of our population for whom we are forcing to have these kinds of reactions." - Chittenden Sen. David Zuckerman

Chittenden Sen. David Zuckerman opposed the plan because he thinks parents have a right to determine what's best for their children. "The important factor for me is that the human body itself, our body, is our one vessel that we have complete control over,” he says. “Considering there is evidence of individuals having basically allergic reactions to shots, if we ... force everybody to have them, there are a percentage of our population for whom we are forcing to have these kinds of reactions." 

But Mullin says this is a case where the protection of society trumps the rights of parents. "Fundamentally I would hate to tell anybody to do anything,” says Mullin. “But when it comes to the public good, there are things that you make decisions on … There are some decisions that you have to make that are for the children and for society and I think this is one of them."  

The Mullin amendment was added to a House bill that deals with the collection of disease information. So now the House will have to decide if it wants to keep his vaccine proposal in the overall legislation.  

"Fundamentally I would hate to tell anybody to do anything. But when it comes to the public good, there are things that you make decisions on." - Rutland Sen. Kevin Mullin

From original post 4:10 p.m. Rutland Sen. Kevin Mullin is the lead sponsor of the legislation, and says opting out of immunization endangers children who can't be vaccinated.

"The most pressing reason to do it is to protect those who can't be vaccinated — those who for med reasons, just cannot be vaccinated," he said. "Once that herd immunity level goes below a certain threshold, you have a problem, and there are certain areas and pockets of the state where we're at very dangerous levels."

Supporters of the exemption say mandating vaccines amounts to a government overreach. The measure now goes back to the House.

The Senate voted three years ago to take the same step, but the House did not pass that legislation and the 2012 effort to end the philosophical exemption failed.

Correction 1:23 p.m. April 26, 2015: This article was updated to reflect that the state's mandatory vaccination policy applies to public and private schools.