Vermont gets vaccination bill half-right

The Vermont Senate has recently passed a bill taking away the ‘rights’ of parents to refuse certain vaccinations on philosophical grounds for their children before entering school:

The Vermont Senate on Friday passed and sent to the House a bill that would end the philosophical exemption from the requirement that parents get their children a series of vaccinations before they enter school.

But a religious exemption would remain in place, and senators and state Health Department officials agreed that there are no standards in Vermont law for what constitutes religious belief.

There are definite pros and cons to this bill. The overwhelming pro is that it sends the message that vaccinations are important to the health of children. This should help to counter some of the anti-vax rhetoric that still pervades much of the Western world as if none of us have ever heard of medicine or science. The biggest con, however, is that the actual implication of the bill is impotent. Vermont does not put itself in the place of determining what constitutes a legitimate religious belief, so anyone can simply lie on a form to exempt their child from good health.

And, of course, there is the issue of giving the religious special rights. This bill creates a divide which says that religious beliefs are more important than philosophical beliefs. It’s reminiscent of the hoops through which the military puts pacifists during a draft versus what they require of, say, the Amish. It’s not only morally and logically abhorrent, but I doubt it’s constitutional.

But there is an upside. Aside from the obvious health benefits, this could be a stepping stone to outlawing the religious from exempting their children, much like DADT acted as a stepping stone to what we have today. It’s probably wishful thinking, but it’s possible. Religious liberty is not unlimited, after all. (If you think it is, try sending your child to school completely nude on the basis that it is part of your religion.)

8 Responses

  1. A few years ago I found the paper work from, when my parents registered me for school. I was in one of the last groups of kids that had to have the smallpox vaccination. I have a genetic skin condition that means I can not have the smallpox vaccination.

    The paper work included a statement from my pediatrician that the small pox vaccination was contraindicated because I have atopic dermatitis, a letter from my pediatric dermatologist verifying the diagnoses, and a letter from a 3rd doctor I didn’t recognize verifying that someone with atopic dermatitis could not get the smallpox vaccination.

    My sister entered elementary 4 years after I did and was not required to get the vaccination. My understanding is that had she been required to we would have had to been separated for a short period of time. (I had a very very severe case of atopic dermatitis)

    I’m a teacher, I asked the nurse about vaccination rates at our school. We have 600+ kids. We have 2 kids with legitimate medical waivers (one is allergic to something has the vaccinations that don’t have that ingredient, the other is being treated for cancer and can not have some vaccinations).

    There was a 3rd child with a personal objection waiver. The day it was up – nurse sent him home. Parents must not have had that much of an objection it was easier to get the vaccinations than fill out the paper work for another waiver.

  2. You’ll never be able to convince a judge that forcing people with religious objections to vaccinations to get them is a permissible thing under the constitution. The argument could be made for children, but not for everyone and especially not adults of sound mind. At the most, the un-vaccinated could probably be barred from some public forums like schools.

    Also, I’m not sure what the truth of it is, but I’ve heard the optimum vaccination rate isn’t even 100%, that it’s more like 95%. I’m not sure the reasoning, but I’ve heard that more than once. To be fair, every time I’ve heard that or similar things it has been in regard to specific diseases, not vaccinations as a whole. Seasonal flu was the last I heard about.

    They actually don’t recommend the vaccine for you and I.

  3. That rates refers to the idea of herd immunity. The higher the number, the fewer people a virus has to jump from person to person. Those who are not vaccinated are effectively protected by a wall of protection from responsible people/kids with responsible parents.

  4. I understand that, but it doesn’t explain why 95% would be better then 100%.

    I’ve been thinking about it, and my suspicion is that it might be cost related. It is totally unnecessary to vaccinate everyone, from a purely strategic point of view. You only need to vaccinate enough people to reach the point where the disease can’t maintain itself in the population. That would explain why I’ve seen it vary according to disease.

    I know you are against even considering the expense when it comes to health, but when you are talking about vaccinating 300 million+ people, its going to cost a few bucks and if you could eliminate a disease by only getting to 60%, then that’s what I’d do. Money is part of reality.

    Another interesting thing, my sister is completely un-vaccinated and she is as healthy as a horse and usually is. It’s strange for a number of reasons, mostly because of the reason she was vaccinated, she has a non-viral form of AIDS essentially. Where AIDS is by definition accuired, she was born with an incredibly weak immune system and without her body having the ability to create a strong one. Vaccinations would thus have been a waste of money and possibly harmful to her.

    But it’s weird she doesn’t get sick more often. It’s a mystery. I still haven’t forgiven her for the fact that I had to move out when I had the chicken pox in 4th grade.Payback is coming though… It’s coming…

  5. The 95% number you’re grabbing is usually used for particular diseases, such as measles. There will be variation when talking about other diseases; different viruses spread at different rates, so what it takes to effectively stop infection will necessarily be different for a number of diseases. (And there will be other factors, such as the given environment in which the virus finds itself – smallpox, for example, was much more virulent in Native American populations than it was in European populations back in the day, and I imagine that may still be the case where vaccines aren’t in play.)

    Cost certainly is a concern, but the price of one vaccine is always going to be cheaper than the price of one persons productivity; it’s cheap to vaccinate in almost all cases.

  6. I gathered that, that’s why I mentioned I’m sure its different for different illnesses. In fact, I don’t know the truth of this either, but I recently heard (somewhere) that the advancement that has been made in treating AIDS has actually increased the number of infections. Just a curiosity, not really related to this directly , but it would make some sense if true.

    And I don’t know if your last statement would always prove true. You would think that a small repair to vehicles that is cheap and would save lives would always be cost effective in relation to lost productivity of x number of people, but it isn’t always so. The government has come up with 5.7 million dollars as the monetary value of an American life, so if the cost of recall is higher then the cost of the projected number of deaths, it doesn’t happen, or is voluntary at best.

  7. I would hazard that any such thing about HIV either focuses on a very specific population or is gaming the numbers. For instance, if we look at the sheer number of people infected rather than the rate of new infections, we’re going to obviously see an increase in total numbers.

    When I say cost is a concern, I mean it is only a concern insofar as it is most desirable to administer vaccines in the way which serves the most people at the best price. I don’t mean that it is a concern to the point where, “Well, let’s only aim to help a certain percentage” is ever a viable phrase. Vaccines are cheap and they save lives. It is impossible to lose when aiming for 100% protection.

  8. NO argument from me, just a few curiosities I’ve heard, that’s all.

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