“I never thought this would turn into the mess it turned into.” – State Senator Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), co-sponsor of a failed bill to eliminate philosophical exemption to vaccination in Vermont.
In the first five months of 2012, NVIC staff and volunteers have helped citizens in Vermont and California take a stand in the historic state-based fight against Big Pharma, medical trade associations and government health lobbyists pressuring legislators to eliminate the legal right to exercise personal belief exemptions to vaccination in America. Personal belief exemptions include those for sincerely held religious, conscientious and philosophical beliefs.
The proliferation of new vaccines that have been added in the past 25 years to the government mandated child vaccination schedule, coupled with growing awareness that many highly vaccinated children are chronically ill, is powering the new citizen activism. Educated mothers and fathers have joined with enlightened health care professionals and are publicly defending the human right to exercise informed consent to medical risk-taking, which includes the legal right of parents of minor children to weigh the benefits and risks of vaccines and make voluntary vaccination decisions.
Educating One Legislator At A Time
Ground zero this year has been Vermont (S199) and California (AB2109). NVIC Director of State Advocacy, Dawn Richardson said, “We are educating one legislator at a time. Many are telling us that they have never taken a critical look at vaccine mandates and are surprised at what they are learning. They see smart, articulate parents taking a rational and principled stand for the freedom to make voluntary decisions about vaccinating their children and it is changing their views. They realize that a lot of the information being given to them by lobbyists, who are trying to take away personal belief exemptions, is just plain wrong.”
U.S. – More Vaccinations for Children Than Other Countries
U.S. government health officials tell doctors to give children more vaccinations more often than in any other country in the world – 69 doses of 16 vaccines from day of birth to age 18. 12 The majority of these vaccinations are legally required in every state for children to get a public education. 3
The world’s third largest country with a population of over 300 million people, America has one of the highest child population vaccination rates. Nationwide by age three, 95 percent of all children are vaccinated with three or more doses of pertussis, diphtheria and tetanus vaccines and more than 90 percent are vaccinated with three or more doses of polio, HIB, pneumococcal and hepatitis B vaccines plus one or more doses of measles, mumps, rubella and varicella (chickenpox) vaccines. The majority have also received multiple doses of rotavirus and hepatitis A vaccines.
Today Everybody Knows Somebody
Today, everybody knows somebody who was healthy, got vaccinated and was never healthy again. Among America’s highly vaccinated child population, today 1 child 6 is learning disabled; 5 1 in 9 is asthmatic; 6 1 in 88 develops autism 7 and 1 in 450 becomes diabetic. 8 Children are paying a high price for being forced to submit to one-size-fits-all vaccine mandates as many American parents are placed in the untenable position of choosing between protecting the health of their children and educating their children.
One-size-fits-all state vaccine mandates do not take into account large gaps in the vaccine safety science and individual increased susceptibility for vaccine harm, which was acknowledged by the Institute of Medicine in their 2011 report Vaccine Adverse Effects: Evidence and Causality.9 State vaccine mandates do not take into account the fact that pediatricians are refusing to provide medical care to children unless they have received every dose of vaccine that the government and the AAP recommends, even when children have suffered previous vaccine reaction symptoms because very few vaccine reaction symptoms or health disorders now qualify for a medical exemption to vaccination. 10
Children Endangered by Elimination of Personal Belief Exemptions
The elimination of vaccine exemptions for personal religious and conscientious beliefs has very real consequences for those at increased biological susceptibility for suffering reactions, injuries and deaths from vaccines sold by profit-seeking pharmaceutical corporations that Congress and the U.S. Supreme Court have shielded from civil liability.11
As more pediatricians, who are also shielded from civil liability, refuse to acknowledge vaccine reactions or write medical exemptions to vaccination, the non-medical exemptions are the only option for many parents trying to protect their vaccine vulnerable children from further harm.
NVIC Educating Vaccine Freedom Fighters in the States
Citizen advocates, who believe in the human right to informed consent to vaccine risk-taking, are facing a wealthy, well-organized and politically powerful lobby of Pharma-funded medical trade associations, like the American Academy of Pediatrics12 13 that have joined with state public health officials to persuade state legislators to shut off all legal avenues for parents to make voluntary vaccine choices for their children. 14
NVIC’s Director of Advocacy, Dawn Richardson, who successfully led a seven-year effort to obtain conscientious belief exemption to vaccination in Texas in 2003, manages the online NVIC Advocacy Portal she designed in 2010. Assisted by Cindy Loveland, longtime Colorado vaccine choice advocate, she is educating users of the Advocacy Portal about how to become effective vaccine choice freedom fighters in the states. NVIC Vermont state Advocacy Director, Jennifer Stella, said “We would never have been able to navigate through the legislative process without NVIC and, specifically, without Dawn’s coaching and coordination.”
Vermonters Save Philosophical Exemption
The state of Vermont is rated the Number One “healthiest” state 15 in the nation. In 2010 in Vermont, the CDC measured a very high 96 percent pertussis vaccination rate, 16 as well as a 93 measles vaccination rate, 17 among children aged 19 to 35 months.
Even so, at the beginning of January, parents living in the “healthiest” state were shocked to find out that a bill (S199) was being pushed by the state’s Health Commissioner to strip the philosophical belief exemption to vaccination from state public health laws. 18 In 2010-2011, only 360 children in Vermont schools were exempted from vaccinations because their parents filed a philosophical belief exemption to vaccination.
Within a month, outraged Vermonters organized the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice 19 and the Coalition’s co-founder, Jennifer Stella, volunteered to be NVIC’s Vermont state director.
Powerful Doctors Push Eliminating Personal Belief Exemption
S199 was introduced in the state Senate by Kevin Mullin, who is VT chair of the Pharma-funded American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC),20 and was introduced in the state House by Representative George Till, M.D., at the request of Harry Chen, M.D., Vermont’s Health Commissioner. Dr. Chen, who was a Vermont state representative and former chair of the Vermont House Health Care Committee for four years, has publicly downplayed vaccine risks. 21
S199 was supported by the VT Dept. of Health and state government supported institutions, such as the University of Vermont, as well as medical trade associations that receive money from pharmaceutical corporations selling vaccines in the U.S., including the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), March of Dimes, Every Child by Two and the American Legislative Exchange Council (ALEC). Other organizations endorsing elimination of the philosophical exemption included the Vermont Academy of Family Physicians, Fletcher Allen, Vermont Association of Hospitals and Health Systems, Voices for VT Children, Vermont Pharmacists Association, Rutland Medical Center, and Vermont Medical Society.
Bill Rammed Through in the Senate
Senator Mullin introduced S199 in early January with strong backing from Pharma and medical trade association lobbyists. The bill was quickly rammed through the Senate without a public hearing and passed overwhelmingly with a nearly unanimous 25-4 vote.
“The Senate vote came after lobbyists gave senators misinformation that parents were making decisions about vaccination based on bad information they were finding on the internet,” said Jennifer Stella. “The lobbyists claimed that the unvaccinated were to blame for disease outbreaks and that exemption rates were rising and vaccination rates were low in Vermont when none of that was true.”
Parents Speak Out and Demonstrate Against Bill
By the end of February, the parents of seven year old Kaylynne Matten, who died in Vermont after a routine flu shot in December 2011, began speaking out about the need to keep the philosophical exemption intact. Watch an NVIC video referenced commentary that includes an interview with Kaylynne’s parents.
By March 15, the newly formed Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice held a public demonstration in Montpelier, the state Capitol. 22 The Vermont Coalition founders created a website and Facebook page and secured 1500 signatures on a petition opposing the bill. They worked closely with NVIC to develop strategy and keep parents informed on a daily basis with nightly conference calls, email and web and Facebook updates and through Action Alerts posted on the NVIC Advocacy Portal.
Dawn Richardson commented that parents in Washington state learned a lot last year from the fast track passing of legislation (SB5005) that forces parents to pay to get the signature of a medical doctor in order to obtain a philosophical belief exemption to vaccination. “NVIC Washington state volunteer, Karl Kanthak, fought against the passage of SB5005 last year and he brought his experience to the table in counseling parents in Vermont,” she said. “He emphasized how important it was to quickly educate legislators with the “facts,” including the fact that vaccination rates for core vaccines like pertussis and measles continue to be high in Vermont and were not falling like the Vermont Health Commissioner Chen claimed.”
Parents Pack House Hearing Room
After Vermont parents protested that the VT Senate had held no public hearings on the bill, in March the House Health Care Committee held a hearing with invited testimony and an evening public hearing. During invited testimony, Dawn Richardson presented orally via telephone on behalf of NVIC’s Vermont supporters in opposition to the bill. Also testifying in opposition were the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice (Jennifer Stella); Vermont Chiropractic Association (Dr. Julia McDaniels, Dr. Erik Hemmit); Center for Personal Rights (Mary Holland, JD) and Alan Philips, JD.
At an evening meeting on March 21, Vermont families and health professionals opposing the bill packed the House hearing room and, at public comment time, each had a chance to face off with a few medical doctors, who attended to endorse the bill. 23
Bill Amended to Include Parental Admission of Risk
An amended version of S. 199 that retained the philosophical exemption was voted out of the House Health Care Committee and overwhelmingly approved by the full House in a vote on April 13 after bill sponsors Dr. Till and Paul Poirer tried to block the amendment. 24 While the amended version kept the philosophical exemption intact, it required parents to review vaccine benefit information and sign a statement every year acknowledging that taking the exemption will pose a risk to the health of their child and society.
In the media, Jennifer Stella argued that the bill’s sponsors were exaggerating the “decline” in vaccination in the state by counting kids “unvaccinated” if they have missed just one dose of state mandated vaccines and she questioned vaccine effectiveness, pointing to reported cases of disease in fully vaccinated children.25
VT Coalition & NVIC Oppose Conference Committee Compromise
On April 30, a specially appointed House and Senate Conference Committee created and voted on a compromise to S199 that would retain the philosophical exemption unless the statewide vaccination rate drops below 90 percent for pertussis and MMR vaccine and then the Health Commissioner would suspend the philosophical exemption for those vaccines.26 27
The Vermont Coalition for Vaccination Choice and NVIC opposed the compromise that included an arbitrary 90 percent vaccination rate cap for certain vaccines that could be used in the future to eliminate the right to obtain a philosophical belief exemption. Jennifer Stella commented “It basically says that only 10 percent of Vermonters get to use that right.”
Through NVIC Advocacy Portal Action Alerts and information posted on the NVIC Facebook and Vermont Coalition Facebook pages, the public was kept informed day to day about what was happening in the Vermont state Capitol. Vermont parents and health professionals called, emailed and traveled to Montpelier to educate legislators and their staffs one-on-one with factual, referenced information about vaccination issues.
A Delayed Vote and Language Inserted Targeting Teachers
A vote had been scheduled in the House on May 2 on the S199 compromise but it was postponed.
On May 3, behind the scenes modifications to the bill were made that removed the 90 percent vaccination rate cap and kept the philosophical exemption intact. However, the language, which forces parents to sign a statement that they agree that taking the exemption endangers their child and society, remained in the bill. In addition, a “feasibility study” was added by bill supporters to pave the way for teachers and all school personnel to be required to show proof they are up-to-date on all government recommended vaccines in order to stay employed.
Philosophical Exemption Saved, Bill on Governor’s Desk
There were no public hearings on the amended bill and it passed the House on May 3 with a nearly unanimous 133-6 vote. On May 5, the Senate followed suit with a 20-5 vote.
The bill is now on Governor Peter Shumlin’s desk for signature. Governor Shumlin was on record in April as supporting retaining the philosophical exemption, which was in direct conflict with the lobbying efforts by state Health Commissioner Chen to remove it.
A front-page article in the VT Burlington Free Press noted that this attempt to eliminate the philosophical exemption to vaccination from Vermont public health laws failed. Tom McLeod, a key member of the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice, was quoted as saying, “The most dangerous place in the woods is between a mother bear and her cubs.” 28
NVIC Advocacy Portal Played Key Role
Vermont’s experience demonstrates how effective the free online NVIC Advocacy Portal can be in offering citizens in every state the opportunity to plug into a network of experienced and motivated, vaccine choice advocates. You can join with like-minded citizens in your state today and educate your state legislators about the importance of protecting informed consent and parental rights.
If you are not a registered user of NVIC’s Advocacy Portal please sign up today. When legislation starts moving in your state that will take away your right to make voluntary vaccine choices, you will receive an Action Alert and be put in instant touch with your legislators via your smart phone or computer.
Remember to thank your legislators for listening to your concerns and voting to protect vaccine exemptions with a thank you email or phone call. In Vermont, please send copies of any correspondence you send or receive from your legislator to [email protected].
California Anti-Choice Legislation Needs to be Stopped
In late February, a California pediatrician legislator, Assemblyman Richard Pan, M.D., introduced a bill to impose restrictions on the personal belief exemption to vaccination. The bill has moved quickly through the Democrat-controlled California legislature.
California law allows a personal belief exemption to vaccination, which includes both religious and conscientious or philosophical beliefs. The bill will force parents, who are filing a personal belief exemption with the state so their children can attend school, to pay a medical doctor or other designated medical practitioner (D.O., medical assistant, nurse practitioner or N.D. under the supervision of an M.D.) for an appointment to have the personal belief exemption form signed. Without a medical provider signature, the personal belief exemption form will not be valid and the child will be barred from attending school.
The bill was amended by the House on April 23 and passed by the House with a 44-19 vote on May 10. It is headed for the VT Senate.
With many pediatricians refusing to treat children, whose parents decline to give their children every AAP and government recommended vaccine on schedule, a majority of families wanting to file a personal belief exemption to vaccination for religious or conscientiously held beliefs, may effectively be denied that right.
Watch an NVIC public service message about this bill.
Watch a public hearing on this bill, which included testimony opposing the bill from Dawn Winkler, NVIC California Advocacy Co-Director and pediatrician Bob Sears, M.D..
If you are in California, you can join the fight against AB2109 at http://NVICAdvocacy.org. When you register, you will automatically be placed on your California state email list to receive critical action alerts to fight this bill. Bill status information and steps you can take to fight AB2109 in the Senate are posted on the California state page on the NVIC Advocacy Portal.
SC Bill to Promote HPV (Gardasil) Vaccine
On April 18 South Carolina’s Committee on Medical, Military, Public and Municipal Affairs passed H 4497 - “The Cervical Cancer Prevention Act” and is being fast tracked. The bill, if passed, would require beginning with the 2012-2013 school year the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control to offer the HPV (Human Papillomavirus) Vaccine to all female students enrolling in the 7th grade.
2 Miller NZ, Goldman GS. Infant mortality rates regressed against number of vaccine doses routinely given: Is there a biochemical or synergistic toxicity?Human and Experimental Toxicology: Published online May 4, 2011.
4 CDC. Estimated Vaccination Coverage with Individual Vaccines and Selected Vaccination Series Among Children 19 to 35 months of age by State U.S., National Immunization Survey - 2010
5 Boyle CA, Boulet S et al. Trends in the Prevalence of Developmental Disabilities in US Children 1997-2000. Pediatrics. Published online May 23, 2011.
9 Stratton K, Ford A, Rusch E, Clayton EW, editors. Adverse Effects of Vaccines: Evidence and Causality. Committee to Review Adverse Effects of Vaccines. Institute of Medicine: National Academies Press. 2011. Pages 70-78
11 Fisher, BL. The Health Liberty Revolution & Forced Vaccination. NVIC Vaccine E-News. Aug. 23, 2012.
14 Fisher BL. Vermont Parents Fight to Save Philosophical Exemption. NVIC Vaccine E-News. Feb. 21, 2012.
15 Harding A. Vermont, New Hampshire Top List of Healthiest States. CNN Health. Dec. 6, 011.
16 CDC. See Reference # 1.
17 CDC. See Reference #2.
21 Picard K. Flu Shot or Not? State Health Officials Warn Against “Alarmist” Reaction to Young Girl’s Death. Seven Days. Jan. 11, 2012
23 Panebaker A. Lawmakers Hear Impassioned Testimony on Vaccine Bill. March 22, 2012.
25 Gram D. Associated Press. Lawmakers, Parents at Loggerheads About Philosophical Exemption for Kids Vaccines. April 22, 2012.
27 Hallenbeck T. VT Buzz: Vaccinations Prove Vexing to the End to VT Lawmakers. Burlington Free Press. April 30, 2012.
28 Hallenbeck T. Legislature Votes to Preserve Vaccination Exemption. Burlington Free Press (front page). May 4, 2012.
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