Vermont Senate OKs Vaccination Bill March 4, 2012

Vermont Senate OKs Vaccination Bill

On Friday, the Vermont Senate passed a bill and sent it on to the House, ending the ability for parents to exempt their children from mandatory vaccinations before they enter school for philosophical reasons.

The ability to exempt for religious reasons however remains in place.

Not surprisingly, senators and state Health Department officials agreed that there are no standards in Vermont law for what constitutes religious belief. All a parent needs to do in order to exempt their child on religious grounds is fill out a form.

It will also come as no surprise that the room was packed with parents protesting this bill, touting stories of adverse reactions and deaths in a small number of children who have received certain vaccines. This was to no avail, however, because state Health Commissioner Dr. Harry Chen and other health professionals testified repeatedly that “the scientific evidence was overwhelming that the benefits of the vaccines outweighed the risks.”

Millions of people (often children) have died from the very diseases that these vaccines aim to prevent…so why do those numbers not register with these parents?

Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), the chief sponsor of the Senate bill, told his colleagues on Thursday:

Many of us may not be in this chamber today if our parents and grandparents, great-grandparents had taken such a lenient approach to vaccinations and refused to be vaccinated for diseases like smallpox, polio, tuberculosis…We’re going to protect our kids in our public schools and early childhood facilities so they are not exposed to dangerous disease and illness.

Sen. Philip Baruth (D-Chittenden) voted against this bill, stating that he objected to treating philosophical misgivings about the vaccines differently from religious ones.

Baruth said he was

troubled… that we would remove philosophical conviction as something that would be allowed to those who don’t profess an organized religion. It seems to me we’re moving down a path where we’re creating … a set of rights for people of professed, organized religion, and taking them away from people who have deeply held convictions but who do not in fact worship this or that higher being.

On the one hand, I agree. Parents who tout a religious “reason” for why they choose not to vaccinate their children should not be allotted any superior rights over someone who merely professes a strong conviction against vaccinations. In this case, neither should be allowed. I am a supporter of vaccinations for specific diseases for children that attend a public school or child-care setting. Research consistently supports the notion of herd immunity. In order for herd immunity to work, the majority of people need to be immunized. The more children who are immunized, the more effective it is.

My intention is not to perpetuate the war on whether to immunize or not. It’s been done. I’m merely stating that a religious argument against child immunization should carry no more weight than a philosophical one, and if there is a policy stating that immunizations are mandatory, then make them mandatory for everyone, irrational ideologies or not!

On a side note, I wonder if they’d let a Pastafarian sign one of those exemption forms…

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  • What is the legal difference between philosophical and religious reasons?

  • Anonymous

    Agreed. There should be no preference given to religious reasons over philosophical reasons. Neither should be grounds for allowing kids to enter school without vaccination. The only valid reason should be medical ones (some kids with immune disorders can’t be vaccinated). Parents should not be allowed to put the lives of other people’s children at risk because apparently they trust Jim Carrey’s medical advice more than they trust a pediatricians.

  • Miko

    The trouble here comes from making support and attendance at public schools mandatory.  Let parents choose where and if to educate their children and let schools set their own policy and the whole issue goes away.

  • Anonymous

    How would this bolster the herd immunity? Your solution sounds like a surefire method for increasing outbreaks, not suppressing them.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    I totally agree with Sen. Philip Baruth. We should ban both exemptions. 😛

    Actually, that’s not true. I’m not really sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, I’m totally on board with the general idea of doing anything which helps improve the odds of preventing serious diseases and contagions, even if it means making health improvement a mandatory part of everyday life.

    On the other hand, there’s enough of me which values independent thought processes to feel strongly uncomfortable about the idea of forcing people to get vaccinated whether they want to or not. It helps if the government making this mandatory covers some, if not all of the cost, but the idea of being forced to do anything is still a burr in my backside.

    Then again, if people had better education on the subject, how many of them would still object in the first place? The majority of these objections are from one of two sources: “God doesn’t want me to get vaccinated” (What? Bullshit.) and “But someone could get sick!” (I’ve heard tell that the source of a lot of these ‘But people got sick!’ rumors are corporate companies who themselves spread contaminants into the air, soil and water which are known to cause serious illnesses. That says enough for me.) If people really understood the ratio of risks to benefits, how many would still hesitate? After all, any use of anesthesia carries a risk of death, but that doesn’t stop people from getting lifesaving surgery when they need it.

  • Ionian

    It amazes me that the more arbitrary and unreasoned a view is, the more deference we give it.

    If a parent makes a good faith effort to understand the evidence around vaccination, and concludes (wrongly) that not vaccinating is the best thing for their child, we are prepared to tell them that they are incorrect and overrule that decision.

    But if a parent holds an arbitrary belief, with zero evidence, that their god objects to vaccinations, we accord their fantasy with the utmost respect.

  • What is a “philosophical” reason, and how does it differ from a religious reason? If the former is based in rational thought while the latter is not, then what is the point here?

    It sounds like they forbid acting irrationally for rational reasons, but allow acting irrationally for irrational reasons.

  • Puzzled

    Doctors have spent decades telling us the importance of a low-fat high carb diet.  I’ll gladly trust Jim Carrey over someone with that record. 

    But honestly, it’s not about the fact that mainstream medicine repeatedly lies.  It’s about objecting to having guns waved in your face and needles shoved into your arms against your will.  Something people here would surely object to if done in the name of religion.

    And yes, it is absurd that we don’t allow people to decide they don’t want the shots, yet we allow them to be exempt if they think God says not to have it.

  • Annie

    This is an incredibly sticky situation, and I’m not sure where I stand.  I’m so pleased that less people will be able to easily opt out of important vaccinations, but not too excited about rights of the non-religious being the ones taken away.

    It’s not just an issue for school.  My daughter spent most of her toddlerhood immunosuppressed.   Although she was kept isolated for her own safety (even the vaccinated pose a threat to the immune compromised, if they very recently received a live vaccine), it is impossible to avoid other people when coming and going from hospitals and medical clinics.  So I usually squirm at the argument that the non vaccinated pose a threat to those with immune system issues.  Even though I agree with this stance, the truth is everyone poses a threat (though the vaccinated person’s threat is short-lived).

    I look forward to reading others’ responses to this issue.  I wonder what Sen. Mullin’s motives are for supporting this bill?  Is he trying to get more people vaccinated, or is he simply trying to get preferential treatment for the religious?

  • Sailor

    “If people really understood the ratio of risks to benefits, how many would still hesitate?”
    Strangely enough in very short term it might sometimes  actually be safer NOT to vaccinate just because the herd immunity has almost eliminated the illnesses for which we vaccinate and vaccination does carry (a minute) risk.  Of course once more than a handful of people follow this strategy we get the disease coming back and much worse consequences.
    While I sympathize with you about forcing people to do things, vaccination is no different from other things such as paying taxes which is for the common good. We don’t allow people to kill each other. In the same way if we allow people to send unactivated kids out into the world, they are a threat to those who, for medical reasons, cannot be vaccinated, and for those for whom the vaccination did not work (there are always some).

  • Sailor

    “I wonder what Sen. Mullin’s motives are for supporting this bill?  Is he
    trying to get more people vaccinated, or is he simply trying to get
    preferential treatment for the religious?” Definitely the former. The reason for allowing the religious exemption was probably to avoid a court case on religious freedom if they denied it.

  • Matthew Loop

    Vaccines take an awful lot of credit for what improved sanitation cured. Public opinion was bought a long time ago by private interest groups, hence why most people believe vaccines are safe. Disease and fear-mongering is a big business folks…


  • Anonymous

    I think I speak for a large segment of the readership when I say we’d like some sources to back this claim up.

  • If sanitation cured Smallpox then how was it eliminated in countries in the third world that still don’t have modern piped water or sewage systems?

    Good sanitation is important and it helps but we didn’t eliminate Smallpox from the face of the earth because of better sanitation.  

  • Incredulous

    I agree.

    I would also ask that substantiated explainations need to be provided for the existance of  evidence which counters the “cleanliness cured my HPV” claim.

    For instance, why has there been a marked increase in the outbreak of Whooping Cough in areas which have had a marked reduction in the use of the relevant vaccine (

  • Exactly. We don’t rely on “philosophical” or “religious” reasons for requiring vaccinations in the first place. It’s an evidence-based system being broken wide open over religious feelings.

  •  There’s a big difference between diseases that commune through bodily fluids or small-proximity effects, and air-born diseases. Sanitation only gets you so far, while vaccines offer a way to take on some of the worst of all of these. I agree that disease and fear-mongering is a big business, but the only way to win is to get informed, not spread fear about the side you didn’t buy into.

  • Erp

    “are we prepared to tell them they are incorrect and overrule that decision”

    Yes since if enough parents take that decision then herd immunity is lost and their children (who didn’t have a voice in the decision), the children for whom the vaccination didn’t take, and the children who have legitimate medical reason not to be vaccinated (such as too young to be vaccinated) are all at risk.    Public health measures can override individual decisions (think sewage disposal or pollution control).

    Note some of these same parents  want to send their unvaccinated kids to school even when a disease such as measles or whooping cough are known to be in the area.  A few even deliberately infect their children with the disease (at least with measles or german measles or chickenpox) despite the known medical risks of having these disease and the unnecessary misery they put their kids through (in the old days before vaccination deliberate infection under controlled circumstances sometimes made sense [better to have the disease with the best nursing care around rather than during a long sea voyage] though the permanent side effect rate [including death] was still there albeit perhaps lower).

  • The job of a fraud is to convince you they are a doctor. Even in scientific communities, there is a constant battle to filter the overzealous fad crazes from emerging consensus. That real doctors can be wrong doesn’t mean those outside the community are more correct by default. “Doctors” can be mislead just like anyone, but they are more difficult to mislead than Jim Carrey is. And when they are, you’ll never see all of them give in to it.

    So it is just as misleading to say “Doctors spent decades telling us the importance of a low-fat high carb diet.” as it is to say “Jim Carrey hates Jews.” (Both stereotyped by past mistakes of their associates.)

  •  Maybe the “issue” in question has more to do with education than health.

  • really?

    Tell that to my four aunts and uncles who have polio damage – in upper middle class mid-century suburbs with a physician for a father.

  • Ditto – my Auntie still suffers today after coming down with polio in the 50s (Australia).

    And no one with any sense claims vaccinations are completely ‘safe’. The facts are the benefits of vaccination far outweigh the risks, especially if one considers the whole benefit to society via herd immunity.

  • Erp

     And is also why some vaccines are only recommended in certain circumstances (e.g., rabies, yellow fever) and why people no longer get smallpox vaccinations.    The risk/benefit ratio is different.

    I suspect one problem is that most of the current generation of parents in the first world have no experience with polio, diphtheria, whooping cough, etc..  They can’t imagine why the 1925 dog sled run to Nome, Alaska to deliver diphtheria anti-toxin riveted the nation.  

  • Pseudonym


    Strangely enough in very short term it might sometimes  actually be
    safer NOT to vaccinate just because the herd immunity has almost
    eliminated the illnesses for which we vaccinate and vaccination does
    carry (a minute) risk.

    It’d be an interesting exercise to calculate precisely when the risk of vaccination outweighs the benefit.

    It’s clearly the case with smallpox today, since smallpox is extinct in the wild. But consider polio. Polio is essentially gone from most of the world, but on the other hand, the polio vaccine has one of the lowest risks of side-effects of any vaccine in existence, and considering how safe vaccines generally are, that’s saying something.

  • Anonymous

     Since mainstream medicine “repeatedly lies” I suppose you will:

    – Refuse to submit to chemotherapy should you be told you have a treatable cancer.
    – Refuse heart medication, should you be told you have a heart condition.
    – Ignore warnings about your sugar intake, should you be told you are a diabetic.
    – Refuse antibiotics, should you be told you have an aggressive infection.

    I mean, all of these things are universally prescribed by “mainstream medicine” and many have much less guaranteed results than vaccinations, one of the most effective medical interventions in history. So given that they are things “mainstream medicine” thinks are important and sometimes its members get things wrong, why not trust someone with absolutely no medical qualification whatsoever with ALL of your health decisions? Go ahead an ask Jim what to do with that odd lump you noticed in the shower the other day, I’m sure he’s just as qualified to tell you than an oncologist.

  • Anonymous-Sam

    Personally, I probably WOULD hesitate to get chemotherapy. Using a potentially cancer-causing treatment to treat the symptoms of cancer (often leaving the disease itself fully intact, which is why there’s such a high recurrence rate for tumors) doesn’t strike me as a win-win situation. Likewise, our overuse of antibiotics has created some interesting and rather dangerous strains of bacteria which are resistant to most mainstream medication.

    But if it were an emergency? Hard to say whether I’d be grasping at straws or not (quality of life is a big deal to me; living only by the definition of mechanically regulated homeostasis doesn’t strike me as adhering to the spirit of the word living), but I know I’d be a hell of a lot more likely to take recommendations from experts.  :p

  • It only takes one visitor from an area that doesn’t require vaccinations to reintroduce a previously absent disease.  Just ask the people who were exposed to measles at the Super Bowl.

  • Anonymous

     I think it is obvious that vaccinations have a significant net positive health effect, and my children are of course fully vaccinated. However that does not make the idea of forced vaccination obviously right.
    For one, there are risks associated with vaccinations that go all the way to death although those risks are small would you support the forced vaccination if for instance one in half a million kids literally dropped dead on the table the second the vaccination was delivered as though it were on of the worlds most deadly toxins? If not then you should be looking at the philosophical underpinnings for forced vaccinations a little more warily.
    A few thought experiments along those lines start to make the moral issue murky.
    For instance:
    What if aliens offered a cure for something like cancer, only requiring that a random sacrifice of one child out of every million on earth would be floated in the air and tortured for a day before being murdered once a decade. Would this be acceptable? It gets complicated.
    The other issue is that there is big money in vaccinations, and when there are literally billions of dollars at stake the motives to cover up issues are very strong, so completely trusting the official channels for completely unbiased info seems naive to say the least.

  • mobathome

    Are there tests that can be admistered to children to determine the risk of an adverse reaction to accination? If yes, what aren’t they used? If not, why aren’t they developed?

  • C

    So how do anti-vaxers make you sick? if you are vaxed then you should be immune right? 
    and it would be the offensive ingredients in the vaccinations that makes it a religious issue.  

  • You really don’t understand how vaccines and herd immunity work, do you?

    I’ll just leave this here.

  • Danisellsre

     Good morning
    Mr. Mullin. I found this interesting bit of information via Vermont
    Coalition for Vaccine Choice this morning. I am interested to hear your
    defense on this alarming bit of information. I have not heard a response
    from you regarding my email or my voicemail, maybe this will motivate
    you to respond, but I doubt it, I don’t think you have the courage to
    defend your position on this matter. I wonder if your constituents are
    aware of your role on this council, I do think that the public would
    find this fascinating…Don’t you? It seems there may be some conflicts
    of interest here. 

    Ties to the American Legislative Exchange Council
    Mullin is the Vermont State Chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) as of 2011.[2]

    ALEC is
    not a lobby; it is not a front group. It is much more powerful than
    that. Through ALEC, behind closed doors, corporations hand state
    legislators the changes to the law they desire that directly benefit
    their bottom line. Along with legislators, corporations have membership
    in ALEC. Corporations sit on all nine ALEC task forces and vote with
    legislators to approve “model” bills. They have their own corporate
    governing board which meets jointly with the legislative board. (ALEC says that corporations do not vote on the board.) They
    fund almost all of ALEC’s operations. Participating legislators,
    overwhelmingly conservative Republicans, then bring those proposals home
    and introduce them in statehouses across the land as their own
    brilliant ideas and important public policy innovations—without
    disclosing that corporations crafted and voted on the bills. ALEC boasts
    that it has over 1,000 of these bills introduced by legislative members
    every year, with one in every five of them enacted into law. ALEC
    describes itself as a “unique,” “unparalleled” and “unmatched”
    organization. It might be right. It is as if a state legislature had
    been reconstituted, yet corporations had pushed the people out the door.
    Learn more at ALECexposed.or

  • Danisellsre

    The above is a letter I sent to Mr.Mullin and at the bottom is the reason he introduced this bill, he is in bed with big pharma via ALEC! Read and research for yourselves, it can be found through many sources, take your pick. Although I know all those who whole heartedly believe in vaccinations would rather trust others to do their research for them .

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