Via The New Yorker: Vermont Says No to the Anti-Vaccine Movement. Excerpt:
Just a year after Vermont became the first state to require labels for products made with genetically modified organisms, Governor Peter Shumlin on Thursday signed an equally controversial but very different kind of legislation: the state has now become the first to remove philosophical exemptions from its vaccination law.
The two issues are both emotional and highly contested. But Vermont’s decisions could hardly be less alike: the G.M.O. bill, which has enormous popular support, has been widely criticized by scientists—largely because no credible evidence exists suggesting that G.M.O.s are dangerous. The vaccine law, however, opposed by many people, is the strongest possible endorsement of the data that shows that vaccines are the world’s most effective public-health tool.
Perhaps because the debate over removing the philosophical exemption has been rancorous and long, the governor first opposed the legislation. More recently, he suggested that he was neutral. On Thursday, possibly sensing the political peril involved in siding with the anti-vaccine movement, Shumlin signed the bill without much publicity. Rather than hold a news conference, as he did when signing the G.M.O. legislation last year, he simply released a statement.
“Vaccines work and parents should get their kids vaccinated,” he said. “I know there are strong feelings on both sides of this issue. I wish the legislation passed three years ago had worked to sufficiently increase vaccination rates. However we’re not where we need to be to protect our kids from dangerous diseases, and I hope this legislation will have the effect of increasing vaccination rates.”
The previous legislation, which required parents to review educational materials before claiming the exemption, was an attempt to balance individual rights with the need to protect children from childhood diseases. Nobody has yet figured out how to do that. During the current debate, the Vermont State Health department reported that fewer than eighty-eight per cent of children entering the state’s kindergartens were fully vaccinated. Like most states, Vermont currently offers parents an exemption for medical conditions and one for religious beliefs. It has been one of about twenty states that allow for philosophical exemptions, and the majority of exemptions in Vermont have been for philosophical reasons.