February 21, 2013


What's the Matter With Vermont? : Anti-vaccine activists derailed a bill that could have blunted the whooping cough epidemic. (Helena Rho, Feb. 21, 2013, Slate)

Act 157 originated when a pediatrician neighbor of Till's came to him with a concern. In a local kindergarten class, 75 percent of students were not fully vaccinated. Till researched the issue and thought it was reasonable to get rid of the philosophical exemption in order to increase vaccination rates. Till proposed a bill in the House, and state Sen. Kevin Mullin proposed an almost identical bill in the Senate.
The Senate bill passed quickly, but not so in the House. Delays sometimes happen in Vermont's "citizen legislature," where lawmaking is a part-time endeavor by ordinary people for just 18 weeks of the year. The bill languished in the health care committee. Then the Legislature was off for a week because the first Tuesday in March is reserved for town meetings in communities across the state.

By the time the Legislature reconvened in the capitol building, the anti-vaccination community had organized itself. "They were in the building every day, in people's faces," Till says. The activists blared the discredited claims of Andrew Wakefield that vaccines do more harm than good, that vaccines cause autism. Wakefield, a British physician, was stripped of his medical license for fabricating a connection between vaccines and autism. Till could not believe what was happening: "He is God to these people." Millions of lives have been saved through vaccines, numerous scientific studies have debunked the myth that vaccines cause autism, and the only studies to show a link have been exposed as frauds. Yet anti-vaxxers were successfully spreading misinformation.

The most egregious was their exploitation of the death of 7-year-old Kaylynne Matten of Barton, Vt. The anti-vaccine community claimed her death was due to adverse effects of the flu vaccine. However, the coroner listed the cause of death as complications from parainfluenza virus, a different category of virus from influenza.

State Rep. Warren Kitzmiller initially supported the bill in the House. He suffered from polio as a child, a terrible disease that regularly killed or crippled tens of thousands of children in the United States during an outbreak. Polio has been almost eliminated thanks to vaccines, but it persists in parts of the world because of suspicion about vaccines. After the anti-vax lobbying effort, Kitzmiller said that he could hardly remember his illness. He said he made a miraculous recovery. He voted against the bill.

Till could not even convince his own health care committee in the House that Vermont's declining vaccination rates were a public health problem.
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Posted by at February 21, 2013 1:08 PM

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