Vermont Senate passes bill to stop philosophical exemption from school vaccine requirements

The Vermont Senate passed a vaccination bill on Friday that would stop the philosophical exemption from the requirement that parents get their children a series of vaccinations before entering school.

The bill was sent to the House for approval. A religious exemption would still remain in place. State health department officials and state senators agreed that there are no standards within Vermont law for what constitutes a religious belief, WSLS reports.

"It can be a slippery slope to try to determine whether a person's religious belief is valid or not," Matthew Staver, the founder and chairman of Liberty Counsel, said, according to WSLS. "It puts the courts or the government in the role of deciding what is considered orthodox or not orthodox, approved or not approved, as it relates to religious belief."

Christine Finley, the immunization program manager for the state's health department, said that parents could easily get a religious exemption. They simply have to sign a form that requests one. Sen. Kevin Mullin (R-Rutland), the chief sponsor of the Senate bill, acknowledged that the religious exemption gave parents a big out, but said that many who would have taken the philosophical exemption would not ask for a religious one.

"In other states, immunization rates have gone up when they did away with the philosophical exemption," Mullin said, according to WSLS.

There are 20 states that allow a philosophical exemption for vaccination and 48 states that offer a religious one. Only West Virginia and Mississippi do not allow a religious exemption.

"Many of us may not be in this chamber today if our parents and grandparents, great-grandparents had taken such a lenient approach to vaccinations and refused to be vaccinated for diseases like smallpox, polio, tuberculosis," Mullin said, according to WSLS. "We're going to protect our kids in our public schools and early childhood facilities so they are not exposed to dangerous disease and illness."