Hoping for the right outcome in Vermont…

but I’m not holding my breath.

From the Times:

Vermont lawmakers are considering eliminating the “philosophical” exemption to the vaccination requirements that usually apply to children attending school and day care in the state. Vermont has one of the highest rates in the country of children who aren’t vaccinated according to the schedule recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and supporters of ending the exemption (which essentially allows parents to opt out of some or all of the recommended vaccinations on behalf of their children) argue that low vaccination rates contributed to an outbreak of pertussis in the state earlier this year. [emphasis added here and below]

First of all, I have a mental picture of a certain co-blogger breaking out into itchy, itchy hives at that use of “philosophical.”

Hmmmmm.  A state with a particularly under-vaccinated population experienced an outbreak of an otherwise highly preventable disease?  Could there be a connection?

Regular readers of this blog are familiar with my stance on parents who opt of out vaccinations for their children.  I think they are [obscene participle] [point of digestive egress, plural].  I think they are bad citizens, and horribly selfish people.  They benefit from the herd immunity provided by other parents opting to do the right thing and vaccinate their own kids, thus assuming the (actually very low) risk the refusers think they shouldn’t have to shoulder.  I have zero respect for them.

But Vermont has seen the light, right?  Maybe the tide is turning?

Vermont’s Senate voted in March to end the exemption, while its House voted earlier this month to keep it — a de facto result if the proposed legislation to change the law doesn’t pass during this session. One compromise being debated: keep the exemption, but require that a primary-care provider offer education on the risks and benefits of vaccines to parents who claim the exemption.

Offer education on the risks and benefits of vaccines to parents who claim the exemption?  *smacks self firmly on the forehead*  That has never frigging occurred to me!  If only someone had suggested that before, I’m sure all those people who refused vaccines back at my old job would have signed right up.  (My current practice does not accept patients whose parents refuse vaccines.)  Because no parent could possibly refuse after I’ve offered education, right?  I certainly haven’t wasted innumerable hours of my life I’ll never get back trying to “educate” parents into changing their minds.

I have other suggestions for the Vermont House, in case that “compromise” doesn’t pan out.  Maybe primary-care providers can tickle parents who refuse vaccines with feathers.  Or threaten them with a plague of frogs.  Or do a little soft-shoe number while singing a jazzy tune extolling the virtues of Louis Pasteur.  Because I have the exact same level of confidence in those interventions as I do in a “compromise” policy in which parents who refuse are “educated” out of their refusal.

So, c’mon Vermont.  Either get rid of a harmful public policy that puts the children of your state at risk or don’t.  Don’t pretend you’re making a change with meaningless window dressing.  Because an infant who dies of pertussis won’t be impressed by your attempts to educate your way out of this mess.

Russell Saunders

Russell Saunders is the ridiculously flimsy pseudonym of a pediatrician in New England. He has a husband, three sons, daughter, cat and dog, though not in that order. He enjoys reading, running and cooking. He can be contacted at blindeddoc using his Gmail account. Twitter types can follow him @russellsaunder1.


  1. Yes, I love “philosophical” to mean a completely baseless (yet not religious!) opposition.

    And I agree with you. If these people trusted the word of doctors, they wouldn’t be objecting “philosophically” in the first place.

    What they’re doing is double horrible. Not only are they free-riding on the rest of us who take a risk for our kids with vaccines, they are putting our children at double risk, since not all vaccines are a hundred percent effective. And if you have a medically fragile kid, as I do, somebody’s refused flu/pertussis etc. shot combined with an ineffective vaccine for him could not unimaginably be fatal.

    • I would be impressed by the novelty (at least) of a parent opting out of vaccinating her child because of her strict adherence to ethical egoism.

    • Yes, I love “philosophical” to mean a completely baseless (yet not religious!) opposition.

      Umm… isn’t that the exact definition of ‘philosophy’?

      [Ducks head to avoid being hit by flying hard copy of The Republic]

      • No, no. Throwing Plato is all too easy a punishment. Instead I will lock you in a room and force you to sit through a reading of “On the Plurality of Worlds.”

  2. IMO, if vaccinations are available at a nominal expense (which they are) then failing to vaccinate a child is neglect of that child’s welfare, and should be treated by the law as it would treat any other form of child neglect — the same as a parent who leaves a child out in the snow without adequate clothing or who fails to give the child enough nutritious food to avoid starvation. That there may be a “philosophical” (read: religious) objection ought to be considered by the trier of fact as potentially a mitigating factor, but not as an outright defense to the charge.

    Of course, no one has elected me to the Vermont Legislature.

Comments are closed.