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Follow VPR's statehouse coverage, featuring Pete Hirschfeld and Bob Kinzel in our Statehouse Bureau in Montpelier.

Mayors Push Legislature To Remove Non-Medical Vaccine Exemptions

All eight of Vermont's mayors signed a joint letter to lawmakers last week urging them to remove non-medical exemptions to the state's mandatory vaccination policy for public schoolchildren.

The mayors say they have an interest in the removal of such exemptions because cities are more densely populated and could be more seriously affected by a disease outbreak.

"As the leaders of our state's most urban areas, we know that any outbreak of vaccine-preventable illness would be felt most acutely in our communities and in our schools," the letter says.

The letter calls on lawmakers to go even further than legislation proposed by Sen. Kevin Mullin, R - Rutland, earlier this year. That bill would remove the so-called "philosophical exemption," which allows parents to opt out of immunizing their children for any reason. The bill leaves alone the other non-medical exemption which allows parents to forego immunization on the grounds of religion.

The mayors, however, seem to want even that provision removed from law.

Citing health concerns for all citizens, including school children, the letter says "the Vermont Mayors Coalition advocates for the elimination of all non-medical exemptions from vaccination to promote the health and safety of our communities."

While the letter does not mention the religious exemption, it exists alongside the philosophical exemption as one of the two exemptions not related to medical necessity.

A bill in the House would remove both exemptions. Both bills are in the health committee of their respective legislative body, but neither has seen any action since mid-February.

Gov. Peter Shumlin has voiced opposition to removing the current exemptions, but it's unclear if a bill will even make it to his desk this year.

Update 1:21 p.m. March 17 Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger's chief of staff, Mike Kanarick clarified Tuesday that not all eight mayors put their support behind the joint letter. He said Montpelier Mayor John Hollar recused himself from the decision to support the letter because of his role as a lobbyist and Rutland Mayor Chris Louras was opposed to the elimination of the exemptions. Kanarick said the coalition issues joint statements or policy positions when six of the eight mayors are in favor.