By John Gilmore
Advocates for vaccine choice rights delivered a humiliating defeat to the vaccine industry in Vermont this week with the defeat of S 199, a bill that would have eliminated the right of Vermont parents to refuse mandatory vaccines to attend school for “philosophical” reasons. A coalition of citizens and health rights organizations stopped the very well funded effort by the vaccine industry in the first full-scale attempt to repeal a state’s philosophical exemption law. And this victory is bound to resonate in the statehouses were similar efforts are under way.
S 199 was introduced by State Senator Bill Mullin, the Vermont Chairman of the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC) Chairperson for Vermont. ALEC is lobbying organization that attempts to pass legislation in the states that reflect the interest of the large corporations that fund it , which includes all the giant drug and vaccine companies. In the Vermont House of Representatives the bill was introduced by George Till, MD, an OBGYN. Dr. Harry Chen, the Commissioner of the Vermont Department of Health Services, pushed hard for the bill claiming that vaccination rates for young children were declining. Chen continued to make this claim throughout the debate even though the Center of Disease Control claims that vaccination rates for the DTP, MMR and Polio vaccines are at their highest levels ever recorded in Vermont and have gone up in children aged 3 ever year for the past three years. Chen’s argument features an odd logic: if people exercise their rights then that right must be taken away.
The bill was quickly passed by the Vermont Senate and then went to the House, by the time it got to the House parents throughout Vermont organized and fought back hard. First the bill failed to pass the House Health Committee, and then a modified bill was soundly defeated on the House. Floor. A bill still called S199 emerged from the legislature, but it left the philosophical exemption intact. Parents will now have to submit letters on any annual basis and must sign a statement that inaccurately states that they acknowledge not vaccinating puts others at risk, but these provisions are face saving bones thrown to assuage what amounts to a complete drubbing by the opponents S 199.
This is an important defeat in the nationwide effort the vaccine industry has launched to reduce parental control over vaccine decisions for their children. Last year California passed a bill, AB 499, that allows children to get vaccines and medical treatment for any of a long list of disease that must be reported to the California Health Department, including anthrax, all sexually-transmitted diseases, diphtheria, pertussis, tetanus, measles, mumps, rubella, Hepatitis A, B and C and many others.
Washington State, home of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, passed a bill that requires parents there to have a physician sign a form and give them a lecture before they can exercise their right to refuse. California has a similar bill, AB 2109, currently moving through the legislature. Hopefully, people in California and other states will follow Vermont’s lead. Senator Mullin the sponsor of the Vermont bill said, “I never thought this would turn into the mess it turned into.” And house sponsor Till gave credit for defeating the bill to involved citizens “They were here every single day in people’s faces,” Till said. “It was hard for a lot of members to remember that they were hearing from a very small but vocal group.” (Hallenbeck, 2004)
The bill sponsors may regret their efforts, 2012 is an election year in Vermont and activists on S199 have said they will be continuing the job by assuring that Mullin and Till are not returned to office.
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Hallenbeck, Terri, Legislature votes to preserve vaccination exemption, Burlington Free Press, May 4, 2004, http://www.burlingtonfreepress.com/article/20120504/NEWS03/120503050/Legislature-votes-preserve-vaccination-exemption?odyssey=tab%7Ctopnews%7Ctext%7CFRONTPAGE