Daily Archives: April 22, 2015

Bad day to be a pro-science liberal

As reported earlier, the State Senate has passed a bill that would strike the philosophical exemption for childhood vaccines. And unfortunately for my faith in Senate liberals, opposition to the measure was led — on the flimsiest of grounds — by some of the chamber’s leading lefties. To wit, David Zuckerman, Anthony Pollina, and Ann Cummings.

The bill itself faces an uncertain future. The House briefly considered ending the philosophical exemption earlier in the session and did nothing; supposedly, House leadership is disinclined to stop doing nothing, so this whole thing might have been an elaborate shadow play produced, God knows why, by Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell.

(It was he who raised this idea from the dead and allowed it to be attached to H.98, a “housekeeping” bill enacting a bunch of minor changes to various parts of state government including the vaccine registry. Thus the justification for grafting the philosophical exemption ban, Frankenstein-style, to a wisp of a bill. Kind of a crappy way to change the law, but not exactly unusual in the annals of lawmaking. Why Campbell went out of his way to do this in a very busy session, I have no idea.)

The bill passed on a very one-sided voice vote. Before that, there was a standing vote on adding the amendment to the bill; the tally was 18 yes, 11 no.

The “noes” brought together some strange bedfellows: some of the most liberal solons joined some of the most conservative in opposing the amendment.

Preceding the vote was about a half hour of rather weird debate in which some folks I usually admire came up with flimsy pretexts for their opposition. Leading this parade was Zuckerman, who offered a science-free amendment to the amendment.

On the grounds that some children may be genetically predisposed to allergic reactions to some vaccine ingredients, he proposed requiring “quick genetic tests” to screen out the allergic.

My scientist readers may be laughing their asses off right now. A “quick genetic test” to screen for allergies to the, what, hundreds of ingredients in various vaccines? As I understand it, such testing is in the very early stages of development. But even if it were well-established, I doubt it would be “quick.”

Thankfully, the Zuckerman Amendment was shot down on a voice vote.

Cummings then raised the specter of uncounted Vermont schoolchildren being forced into “truancy” because their parents refused to let them be vaccinated. She argued that in a time when student counts are in decline, we shouldn’t do something that might mean more kids are “forced out of school.”

Uh-huh. I can just imagine the legions of parents who would actually take their kids out of school rather than allow them to be vaccinated.

Zuckerman followed the same line, predicting lower student enrollments, higher taxes, and even widespread school closures because so many refusenik parents would keep their kids home.

Pollina doubled down, arguing that we shouldn’t require vaccinations because “people might move out of state” rather than see their kids vaccinated.

Okay, let’s see now. First, all our neighboring states — Massachusetts, New York, and “Live Free Or Die” New Hampshire don’t allow philosophical exemptions. So the claptrap Pollina is peddling is that legions of vaccine refuseniks will uproot their lives and move to a distant state that offers a philosophical exemption. (There are only 18 others that do.)

One of the primary arguments made by exemption supporters is that it doesn’t hurt anybody because so few people actually seek an exemption; less than four percent of Vermont parents have done so. How many of them would take the extreme step of dislocating their lives or home-schooling their kids rather than let them be vaccinated?

It wouldn’t be a mass exodus, let’s put it that way.

Zuckerman produced a map, showing that some small districts have high rates of philosophical exemptions. He said that those schools would be especially vulnerable if exemptions were limited. He contradicted himself, of course, when he argued against the idea that those districts are also especially vulnerable to outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases.

Which is it, Senator? No harm (from contagious illness), or catastrophic consequences (in enrollment)?

The three Senators were desperately grabbing at any pretext, no matter how absurd, to preserve the philosophical exemption — without coming right out and saying that they are anti-vaxxers themselves. Or worse, that they support vaccination and are merely placating the anti-vaxxers in their constituencies.

If they’d come irght out and argued against vaccination, at least they would have been intellectually consistent. The closest any of them came to such an argument was when Zuckerman asserted that “there is disputed evidence” on both sides of the issue. Which is the kind of thing we usually hear from the anti-climate change crowd: “There are arguments on both sides, and who am I to judge?”

These are people I usually admire and agree with. Today, I saw a completely different side to them — a desperate, evasive, rhetorically bankrupt side. It wasn’t pretty.

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A festival of preconceived notions (UPDATED)

Update: The full Senate has approved H.98 as amended, to end the philosophical exemption. Details below.

Well, the Senate Health and Welfare Committee held a purely-for-show hearing this morning on whether to remove the philosophical exemption for vaccinations. The anti-vax crowd got an hour, and the pro-vax (I call it “science”) crowd got one.

No one’s mind was changed. And the schedule clearly indicated that “changing minds” wasn’t the purpose of the hearing: the committee held a very brief discussion immediately afterward, expressed its sentiment in favor of removing the philosophical exemption, and sent it to the Senate floor for action — immediately after lunchtime. Talk about your fast track: Committee chair Claire Ayer (good to see her back at work, BTW) had barely enough time to grab some lunch and formalize the committee’s findings for presentation to the Senate.

The committee didn’t take a formal vote because technically, all they were doing was reporting to the full Senate on a couple of key questions:

— What are the benefits and/or risks of immunization?
— How does the philosophical exemption affect the efficacy of vaccination?

Although there was no vote, each member stated their positions. Four were in favor of ending the philosophical exemption (Ayer, Jeanette White, Brian Collamore, Dick McCormack) and one was opposed (Anthony Pollina).

It’s widely believed that the full Senate will approve the measure on a pretty one-sided vote this afternoon. But the debate should be interesting, and the “No” votes may include an unusual coalition of the very liberal and very conservative.

The real action will come after today, when the House and Senate will have to resolve their differences. The original House bill did nothing to the philosophical exemption. Which chamber will carry the day? And how vociferous will the anti-vax lobbying effort be?

More on the Senate vote later.

UPDATE. The Senate has approved the amendment to H. 98 ending the philosophical exemption for child vaccinations. The vote on the amendment was 18 for, 11 against, and managed the neat trick of uniting some of the most liberal and conservative members of the body.

The issue now goes, presumably, to a House-Senate conference committee, since the original H.98 didn’t include the philosophical-exemption language.

More on all of this coming later. I think.