Vermonters pack Statehouse to debate vaccine exemption - WCAX.COM Local Vermont News, Weather and Sports-

Vermonters pack Statehouse to debate vaccine exemption

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WIth one week left in the legislative session, lawmakers may make a final decision over whether to remove a controversial exemption to health vaccines.

Vermonters have passionately debated the proposed bill because both supporters and opponents of the philosophical exemption believe the health of their family and the public depends upon lawmakers' impending decision.

On one hand, supporters of the philosophical exemption believe vaccines are not adequately scrutinized. They do not want the vaccines to affect the health of their children. On the other hand, opponents of the often-pilloried exemption say having unvaccinated children in schools puts all kids at risk.

Hundreds of concerned Vermonters overfilled a hearing room in the Vermont statehouse Monday forcing lawmakers to welcome the public into the House chamber. The House Health Care Committee sought the public's input on a proposed bill that would change laws about vaccines.

The Senate's amendment to a House bill would make illegal the so-called "philosophical exemption" which allowed parents to opt out of vaccinating their kids for reasons other than medical or religious concerns.

Ken Weliczka of Williston testified his six-year-old has protein allergies that make her have an adverse reaction to vaccines. He said his family has used the philosophical exemption to solve that problem.

"We have a better understanding of our child's day to day health challenge than the bureaucrats at the CDC whose agenda is largely driven by the pharmaceutical industry," said Ken Weliczka, Williston.

Weliczka believes there could be a correlation between autism, ADHD and vaccines as another reason to preserve the exemption, but that's a concern others disputed.

"Our children are the canaries in the coal mine letting us know there is a problem," said Weliczka.

"Not one evidence-based research study exists proving a connection between vaccines and autism," said Allen.

The autism debate hit home for Allen who has a child with autism but supports repealing the exemption.

"We would choose him just as he is every time. Autism must not be used as an excuse to protect the vulnerable," said Allen.

Tears flowed for others as they shared their family's stories.

"He's a wonderful dad and I'm so grateful that he is here." said Kimberly Blake.

The bill will soon come up for a vote on the House floor. Monday was one of the last chances for concerned Vermonters to sway lawmakers' opinions.

"I would simply ask the committee and the House to implement the recommendation of Vermont's commissioner of health," said Barre Mayor Thom Lauzon.

"I firmly believe that where there is risk, there must be choice," said Gillman.

Some critics of the philosophical exemption say that even if its repealed, parents will use the religious exemption as a loophole to still avoid vaccines. The law would go into effect this summer if passed as is.

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