Vermont debates childhood vaccine exemptions

The Vermont legislature is debating whether or not to continue to allow parents to send their children to school without immunizations.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and state health officials say that Vermont currently has one of the highest exemption rates for childhood vaccinations, according to Associated Press.

Critics of the "philosophical exemption," essentially a right of refusal for parents wishing to enroll their children in school without the required vaccines, say that Vermont's immunization rates are dropping and the overall vaccination rate may not be high enough to continue to stop outbreaks. Some see a link between low vaccination levels and a recent outbreak of pertussis, or whooping cough.

Christine Finley, an immunization program manager at the state Health Department, said that the number of Vermont kindergarteners with all of the required immunizations dropped to 83 percent in 2010. Finley said the state has yet to see outbreaks of vaccine-preventable illnesses other than pertussis, but favors prevention.

"Do you want to wait until you've got a measles outbreak?" Finley said, Associated Press reports.

Representative George Till (D-Jericho), an obstetrician-gynecologist, has been a vocal critic of the philosophical exemption. He said that parents who forgo vaccinations put other children at risk.

"The question is whether or not they have the right to endanger other children in the school setting," Till said during a House debate, Associated Press reports.