MONTPELIER - Currently, Vermont parents have the choice to get their children vaccinated before attending public school. Though vaccinations are mandated, the law has a philosophical and religious exemption. This allows parents to make an informed decision about the vaccines before allowing them to be administered to their children.
But a proposed house bill, H.527, may remove the philosophical exemption, requiring parents to have their children immunized against their personal judgment.
House Representative Dr. George Till (D-Chittenden) is the lead support on H.527. As a physician of over 30 years, he has strong feelings about mandatory vaccinations, and these feeling are all in support of them. According to Till, his reasoning is simple: vaccines save lives.
Once common childhood diseases - such as whooping cough (pertussis), polio, measles, mumps, and chicken pox - have become almost nonexistent in America's vaccinated society. And, according to Till, these vaccinations, in addition to saving lives, save a great deal of money in the medical field because the cost of treatment of all of these conditions can be huge.
But in recent years there have been many reports linking vaccines to developmental disorders, such as autism. Till holds that many of these reports were falsified. But even in light of the falsifications, the damage to the reputation of immunizations has been tarnished.
The result has been a decrease in parents having their children vaccinated. This has led to outbreaks in diseases such as whooping cough. Till believes that parents that have heard these studies are now more worried about the possible effects of vaccines than about the proven effects of the diseases.
“Parents now have not seen the devastating effects that some of these diseases cause, and they still exist,” Till said. The decreases in the cases over the years have been directly related to the vaccines, not to an elimination of the viruses. But these parents and children are becoming what Till said the medical world refers to as “free riders.” These are people who are not immunized but benefit because the majority of society is.
According to the Centers for Disease and Preventions website, here are the facts on common vaccinated diseases:
Haemophilus Influenza Type B (Hib) Meningitis once killed 600 children annually and “left many survivors with deafness, seizures, or mental retardation.” Currently there are less than 10 fatal cases a year.
Pertussis (Whooping Cough): Before vaccinations began, there were between 150,000 and 260,000 cases annually with up to 9,000 deaths. Between 2000 and 2008, there were only 181 deaths from pertussis in the U.S. and 166 of these were in infants under six months.
Hepatitis B: In the 1980s, there were an average of 450,000 cases annually; this dropped to 80,000 in 1999.
Diphtheria: In 1921 there were 206,000 cases with 15,520 deaths. Since the vaccine, this number has dropped until there have been next to no cases in recent years. There were only two cases reported in the U.S. in 2001.
Tetanus: From 1922-1926, there were an estimated 1,314 cases of tetanus per year in the U.S. In 2000, only 41 cases of tetanus were reported in the U.S.
Mumps: Before vaccinations, there were an estimated 300,000 cases of mumps every year. It was a large cause of childhood deafness. After vaccinations were introduced, the number dropped to 12,848 cases in 1987, and after the addition of a second vaccine, the number dropped to 266 cases in 2001.
But the issue at hand is not one of “are the vaccinations useful.” According to the National Vaccine Information Center (nvicadvocacy.org), it is an “unprecedented attack” on a parent’s ability to make informed choices.
The Vermont Homeschool Network email list also opposes the bill with lengthy threads discussing the erosion of parental rights, the right to make choices for children, and the threat of being forced to vaccinate because government mandates it.
Local house representative Sam Young (D-Orleans-Caledonia-1) agrees that parents should have the right to choose for their children.
“I am in favor of leaving the philosophical exemption as it is. There are a number of reasons that parents may choose to not vaccinate their kids and it should not be mandated by the state,” Young said.
But Till disagrees. He said that we have a duty as a society to protect those that can’t protect themselves. There is a large population of people that cannot be vaccinated due to medical reason, such as their age, allergies, or due to pregnancy. But these people will be more protected from these diseases because those around them are vaccinated. He also said that it is an ethical decision. If your child goes to school with another children in a public setting than you have a duty to make that environment safe. By not vaccinated your kids than you are endangering other students, Till said.
Till acknowledged that all the vaccines are not 100 percent safe. But he said in his 30 years of medicine he has never seen anything that is 100 percent.
Both the Vermont House and Senate are weighing in on this matter. The House bill is still in committee but the Senate’s counterpart, S.199, has already heard testimony for their bill (which also removes the philosophical exemption).
If either bill was to be signed into law, it would require all students (unless excluded by religious exemption) to receive the 5 vaccines (and any shots in that series) required by the Vt. Department of Health for public school systems. This includes Pneumococcal (PCV), Hepatitis B (HepB), the Diphtheria, Tetanus, Pertussis vaccine (DTaP), Poliovirus (Polio) (IPV) vaccination, Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR), Varicella (Chicken pox), and Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis (Tdap). Homeschooled families and private schools would still be excluded if they so choose, Till said.