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MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) — Vermonters of all views on vaccines gathered at the Statehouse Monday to testify to lawmakers on whether they should require nearly all children to be immunized as a condition for attending school.
The House Health Care Committee was taking testimony in advance of a vote in the full House vote set for Tuesday on what has turned out to be perhaps the most contentious issue of the 2015 legislative session: a proposed repeal of the state's philosophical exemption used by parents who don't want their kids fully vaccinated.
The Senate has already passed the measure. Health Care Committee Chairman William Lippert, D-Hinesburg, said last week that there appeared to be majority support on the panel for ending the exemption. Gov. Peter Shumlin has said he likely will follow the wishes of the Legislature.
"As a pediatric nurse, I have cared for infants in respiratory failure caused by pertussis," said Christie Allen of Shelburne, one of several health professionals who testified. "I have seen the havoc bacterial meningitis can wreak on a healthy developing brain and the permanent resulting impairments that last a lifetime."
Dr. Peter Reed, a pediatric resident at the Vermont Children's Hospital of the University of Vermont Medical Center, said he appreciated the idea of patient choice over treatments that affect only them.
"But vaccines are different," he said. "If my child is vaccinated, your child is protected. If your child is unvaccinated, my baby is at risk."
Several opponents to ending the exemption, including Amanda Gilman-Bogie of Barre, argued that children have had adverse reactions to vaccines often enough that the choice should be left to parents. "Where there is risk there must be choice," she said.
Several said they believed mandatory vaccinations for all but children with a medical or religious exemption would violate the principle that medical patients should provide informed consent before treatment.
Suzanna Jones of Walden provided what she said was a paraphrase of the Nuremberg Code, written after experiments by Nazi doctors during World War II: "The voluntary consent of the individual is absolutely essential for medical procedures," she said.
Julie Moore of Middlesex, a member of the School Board at Rumney Elementary School, urged that if the exemption is ended, the effective date be pushed back to July of 2016 to give families — and school districts — time to adjust.
Keeping unvaccinated kids out of school would have "a devastating impact on Rumney's budget for next year and beyond," she said.
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