AAPVT members urge elimination of philosophical exemption to immunizations

A coalition of health care providers that included the American Academy of Pediatrics Vermont Chapter, Vermont Medical Society and Vermont Academy of Family Physicians on Wednesday organized a press conference urging the Vermont House to pass S.199, a bill that would eliminate the philosophical exemption allowing parents to enroll children in public school without immunizations.

The press conference took place as the House Health Care Committee entered its second day of hearing testimony on the legislation, which has already been overwhelmingly approved by the Vermont Senate.

Among the speakers was VMS member and FAHC physician Vermont State Representative George Till, author of similar House legislation. Dr. Till urged the legislature to act before the state’s recent decline in immunization rates leads to a public health crisis.

“Some people will tell you that we don’t really need this legislation right now, that we don’t have a crisis,” said Dr. Till. “We don't want to wait until we're in the middle of a crisis. As elected officials, we have an obligation to protect the public health.”

Robert Macauley, M.D., medical director of clinical ethics and a palliative care physician at FAHC, countered one of the main arguments those against eliminating the philosophical exemption have made during the debate over the issue – interfering with parents’ rights. "They have the freedom not to immunize, even in the face of compelling science. At the same time though, parents who do choose to immunize should also have the freedom to send their children to school knowing they are safe," said Dr. Macauley. "In the midst of this debate about rights, it's sad to me as a Vermonter and as an ethicist that what we're talking about all time is individual freedom and not the common good."

Dr. Till also suggested that perhaps it was the rights of parents who immunize their children that are being abridged when unimmunized children are allowed to attend public school. “Parents have an expectation of a safe environment when they send their kids to school,” he said.

The committee expects to take testimony through the end of the week and vote on the bill early next.



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