Continued from page 1

Vermont saw 102 pertussis cases between January and the first week of April, Finley said, more than were reported in the state all last year. Washington state had 640 cases of pertussis from January through March, up from 94 for the same period last year.

One of the most vocal Vermont lawmakers pushing to end the philosophical exemption has been Rep. George Till, D-Jericho, an obstetrician-gynecologist. He has complained bitterly of parents failing to get their children immunized and putting other children at risk.

“The question is whether they have the right to endanger other children in the school setting,” he said during a recent House debate on ending the philosophical exemption.

Stella dismissed that criticism, saying vaccines aren’t always effective in all children and that some who have received shots are as susceptible to disease as those who have not.

One hot spot for the immunization debate in Vermont has been Middlesex, just outside the capital of Montpelier, where 41 of 157 elementary children at Rumney Memorial School come from families filling out a state form and exempting them from vaccines.

Rumney school nurse Martha Israel _ who was quick to say she was speaking only for herself and not for the school _ said she does not want to see kids kicked out of school because their parents won’t have them vaccinated.

“I don’t think we deny our children in Vermont a public school education because we don’t agree with the medical choices their parents make, when we’re not in a public health crisis,” said Israel, a school nurse since 1989.

Gov. Peter Shumlin has sided with the House’s push for more education on immunizations over the Senate’s push to remove the philosophical exemption _ a 180-degree turn from the position his health commissioner, Dr. Harry Chen, pushed for earlier in this year’s legislative session.

“I do not believe that in the end the government should dictate to parents what inoculations their kids have to get in order to get a public education in Vermont,” the governor said. He said he wants Vermont to “start with more education, to separate the myths that you read about on the Internet with the facts that health care providers will give you on this.”