Editorial: Bill promoting vaccinations deserves public support

With several cases of measles occurring in the state last year, there is an increasing risk that continuing philosophical exemptions to vaccinations could put Vermont’s public school children in harm’s way. That’s because Vermont’s vaccination rate is coming close to 90 percent, a dangerous territory because below that rate is when contagious diseases — like measles, mumps and small pox — take hold and spread.
A bill making its way through the legislature that would eliminate philosophical exemptions is gaining steam and deserves public support. State Sen. Kevin Mullin, R-Rutland, proposed eliminating the philosophical exemption two years ago, and while that effort failed, he has launched another effort this session and is championing the issue.
Ironically, many liberal opponents (not anti-government conservatives) are the ones stealing a page from the Libertarian handbook and arguing it’s not the state’s role to impose government mandates to vaccinate our children before they enter the public school system.
Democrat Gov. Shumlin counts himself in that club — with a caveat. He is personally in favor of vaccinating all children and argues the state should redouble its efforts to educate parents about the safety and effectiveness of vaccination (as well as the risk to a child’s health if they contract measles, mumps or small pox), but he agrees the state should stop short of mandating vaccination for all Vermont students. There is little rational reasoning behind this belief, just that he prefers residents accept the responsibility of making the intelligent choice, and he doesn’t think a state mandate would move the needle enough to make it worth the fight.
Others disagree. “If someone in this room is contagious with measles right now,” said pediatrician Lou DiNicola at a Statehouse news conference, “in the period of time before you get sick, everyone in this room without touching each other could get the measles if you’ve been unvaccinated or if you’ve not had the disease. It is as infectious or more infectious — in fact, more infectious — than Ebola,” DiNicola said.
DiNicola and other doctors argued at a press conference earlier this month that Vermont’s current laws are not working and that it’s time to eliminate the exemption that allows parents to opt out of vaccinations for philosophical reasons, because they believe vaccines come with their own health risks or other downsides.
“What we’re dealing with is misinformation,” DiNicola said. “The law …reinforced that it’s OK to make this decision not to vaccinate your child based on whatever you find out in the Internet.”
All states in this country require vaccinations by federal statute, but states are also allowed to grant exemptions. Mississippi, for example, allows exemptions, but only for medical reasons. They have a 99.7 vaccination rate, and report no cases of measles.
Vermont is much more lenient with exemptions. It can be medical or what is essentially personal preference. Consequently, Vermont has 21 public schools that report a vaccination rate below 90 percent — the percentage that medical science has found triggers susceptibility. Windham Elementary has the lowest has a vaccination rate at 60 percent, Ripton is fourth lowest at 78.9 percent, Lincoln is 84.3 percent and Leicester is 88.9 percent.
That is not acceptable.
It is true that vaccines are not 100 percent safe. But the risk is minimal and the upside to vaccination has been huge, all one has to do is to look through our history to see the ravages caused by these diseases before immunizations were possible. Why would anyone want to flirt with the possibility of seeing small pox return? And is measles an experience anyone wants to bring back into our lives?
For those who think their parental rights trump the rights of all others, there is an option: it’s called home schooling.
They do not have the right to put all other children at risk. Not ever.
The philosophical exemption needs to go, and Sen. Mullins’ bill needs strong public support.
Angelo S. Lynn

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