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Vt. Senate supports ending philosophical exemption to vaccines - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vt. Senate supports ending philosophical exemption to vaccines

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MONTPELIER, Vt. -

The issue of vaccines splits Vermont lawmakers and the public. A small percentage of the population worries about the shots, concerned by the growing number suggested by doctors, and unconvinced of safety assurances from drug companies and public health officials.

About 6 percent of students in Vermont schools are not fully vaccinated as required by law.

"We in this room are determining what goes into every single person's body," said Sen. David Zuckerman, P-Chittenden County.

Senators Wednesday voted to eliminate the most common of three legal excuses for skipping shots: the philosophical exemption.

"What are we going to do with the children not allowed in public schools?" asked Sen. Ann Cummings, D-Washington County.

A handful of the Senate's 30 members say the change is a solution in search of a problem and may contribute to the state's ongoing struggle with enrollment. But proponents contend vaccine safety is settled science, the best way to limit or eliminate the spread of life-threatening diseases.

Parents with children with depressed immune systems celebrated the Wednesday, while those who would prefer their kids not get vaccinated don't know what they'll do if the bill becomes law.

"I think that it means that my daughter would have an opportunity to have an education and a healthy environment where we can send her to school every day, not afraid that she's going to contract a communicable disease that could be prevented and have life-threatening consequences," said Mia Hockett, a Burlington parent.

"I will have to put off that decision as long as I possibly can because I don't want to withdraw them from school, but it is a very real possibility. We might have to look at alternatives," said Joan Kahn, a Montpelier parent.

There's disagreement about whether the language would apply to private and independent schools or just public.

Philosophical exemptions represent more than half of the 6 percent of Vermont school children who don't have all their shots.

The change does leave a religious exemption in place along with one for those with certain medical issues associated with vaccination.

Senators tacked the change onto a technical House bill, and it's unclear if the House will be willing to accept the change in compromise meetings.

From the parent's or student's standpoint, this is very little difference between the philosophical and religious exemptions other than the name. Securing the religious exemption requires identical steps to that used for the philosophical exemption.

Legal experts are unaware of any state that has gotten rid of an exemption before, so it's unclear how many of those who used the philosophical exemption would be likely to switch to the religious one.

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