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.


9 thoughts on “Bad day to be a pro-science liberal

  1. Baruch

    The fact is that vaccines hurt some kids, and parents have the right to determine what pathogens are injected into their children. This article is just more medical propaganda. Big Pharma must love you. Science is about experimenting to prove or disprove an hypothesis, it is not supposed to be about castigating people who ask hard questions like…why do some kids develop developmental, seizure, fertility, and other disorders from vaccines (and some even die), and how can this be prevented? But no, people would rather form a mob and castigate those asking the questions or who don’t want to go along to get along.
    The democrats are more like the republicans than not…look at Shumlin…look at Obama…corrupt sociopaths…time for both of the ruling parties to be dismantled. It is so sad to see Vermont go the way of fascism with this new medical totalitarianism. Shame on the senators who pulled this nonsense on their constituents NOT allowing testimony on a bill…every one of them should be drummed out of office immediately.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Big Pharma has no idea who I am. I just accept the overwhelming scientific evidence that vaccines are safe, effective, and an incredibly important public health tool. And to throw around words like “fascism” and “totalitarianism” just makes you sound like a nut. Only 19 states offer a philosophical exemption. Are all the others “fascist”?

  2. Rebecca Lee

    For decades the docs mindlessly shot our kids full of ethyl mercury way beyond the safety limits set by the EPA. That is just an undisputable fact. That is the science. Anybody who says this ain’t so doesn’t know anything.

    You are just too intellectually lazy to find out the truth about this issue.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      The zealot’s response: “Your eyes are closed to the truth. Mine have been opened.” Then again, I’d hardly expect perspective from someone whose domain name is “”

  3. David Zuckerman

    Hi John-

    I appreciate that we disagree on this issue. I also firmly believe that reasonable people can disagree. I would hope that we could do it in a reasonable manner. I am putting in a link here from one (of many) scientifically trained people who point out that the vaccination world is not as cut and dry as some would make it seem.

    The person who posted this link is a constituent of mine who will have to take medication for the rest of her life to combat seizures that she now has as a result of her reaction to a vaccine years ago. Her story was not the only one I heard. The concern by some of the “anti-vaccine” crowd is that there are people for whom some ingredients in the vaccines can cause allergic reactions. In some cases severe ones. It is this cohort of the “anti-vaccine” crowd that find compelling. Am I a staunch anti-vaccine person? Not at all.

    I want to clarify a few points in your write up.

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

    Already this fits your goal of creating an image of the extremes. But the reality of the 11 votes was not remotely made up of solely extremes. It was rather balanced. I consider Sens. Cummings, Doyle, Westman and Nitka to be very much a part of the middle. Therefore about 1/3 came from the middle and roughly that many from each of the other two “extremes”

    I also want to point out that I am not perfect. My comment regarding “quick” genetic testing” meant that the taking of the swab was quick. Not the analysis of the swab. For you to focus on that rather than the underlying concern simply plays further into creating a “their crazy” picture. I suppose that was your focus.

    Lets consider all the allergens that are out there. Does it not make sense that there would also be allergic reactions (based on genetics) to some ingredients in vaccinations? I am not a themerisole hyperbole person. I fully understand that the direct link claimed is dubious at best. But that does not mean that no one is allergic to anything that is in these shots. When it comes to other things that we ingest, we have a choice. But when government says “you must do this” and it is about ingesting or injecting something into ones body, I think it is reasonable to ask for there to be a reasonable test before such a forced action. I have to believe that the speed of medical and genetic advancement we would have such a test in a reasonable time frame. I know that is not today.

    I did not predict widespread school closures. I simply connected the dots that in many of the very small school communities, if the one child in the school that was not vaccinated (sometimes for just one vaccine…but still creating a >6% “un-vaccinated rate” by statistical presentation) moved out of the school, that would have an impact on the local tax rate. I was clear that this would be different from community to community based on individual actions, as well as the size of the school. GIven that I have a very firm grasp of the funding system under ACTs 60/68 and am on the Education committee discussing the various issues of school funding and performance across the state, I think it is reasonable for me to present on that issue. It was simply to show the complexity of this issue and other potential consequences from the vote.

    My point with respect to low harm had to do with two things. One, was that if one parent had not given their child one of the vaccines, in a “small” school of 16 children, that the threat to an immunocompromised person would be extraordinarily slim. Another point (that I might not have made on the floor) was that the odds of that illness getting into that small community is far lower than getting into higher population communities. Where…by the way, the rates of immunization are well above the herd immunity thresholds.

    Also…the rates on the map were not philosophical exemptions (as you stated), it was all exemptions. It was showing where the rates were high (small communities where statistics are more easily skewed by single situations).

    So to your questions of “Which is it, Senator? No harm (from contagious illness), or catastrophic consequences (in enrollment)?” I would answer, my points are not contradictory. There is not a huge health risk in many of those communities (skewed statistics), but there is also a real possibility that the parent could pull their child and change the numbers of pupils (tax rates) Again…because in the small number scenario, a single person can change the statistics by 3, 5, or even 8% (or higher).

    It makes me sad that you need to use aggressive attacking language that is unnecessary.
    “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.” without even coming to me to get clarification on any of my points.

    Thank you-

    PS…I apologize for any typos, I am trying to get out the door to do deliveries before getting back to the statehouse and am a bit rushed.

    1. John S. Walters Post author

      Sen. Z: Thanks for taking the time to reply. Too much to unpack there, but I’ll say a couple of things.

      — The philosophical exemption movement undercuts itself with its inability to avoid screechy rhetoric about evil doctors, nurses, scientists and bureaucrats. We’re all idiots or puppets or in the pay of Big Pharma, promoting a fascist communist holocaust. I have trouble responding in moderation to that kind of language.

      — Re: talking to you before writing, well, I hardly ever do that. I write from what’s on the public record. That’s the best I can do as an unpaid blogger.

      — On the genetic testing, my disagreement was less about the “quick” aspect than about the unfeasibility of the whole idea.

      Finally, what’s especially disappointing to me about progressives and liberals supporting exemptions is that, in general, our worldview is based on common social goods, on willingness to make some sacrifices (taxes, speed limits, regulations) for the good of all. Vaccination is one of the best, and easiest, of these social goods. I hate to see fellow liberals working against it.

      1. David Zuckerman

        Hi John-

        I can appreciate that, but all of that can be stated without attacking with personal attacks.

  4. Ellie

    Science isn’t black and white. It’s a systemic study of observation and experiment. If you are truly pro-science, then you must to be open to variables. I was one. As an adult I had a reaction to vaccine boosters, I collapsed and seized right there in the doctors office. My health deteriorated rapidly – as in hours and days. My children are at an exponentially higher genetic risk to have a reaction because of my own, but I can’t get a medical exemption for them because it isn’t covered under CDC requirements. Autism is the least of my concerns. Removing the philosophical exemption puts my kids at risk for a host of medical issues (perfectly valid, reputable studies back this up, including their doctor). But getting my children vaccinated doesn’t remove risk for immunocompromised people because, according to the vaccine manufacturer brochures, MMR, flu, and oral polio are live vaccines and shed. Which is why anyone who has been vaxed within 21-28 days isn’t allowed in a NICU. I’m not “anti-vaccine,” but I am pro-common sense. VT has 28 required vaccines before age six. If you include flu, it is 35. Compare that to Sweden, which has 13. Until our vaccine schedule and vaccine court get an overhaul, exemptions need to remain in place. Besides, anyone who truly does their own research, will find the issue isn’t black and white either.


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