MONTPELIER, Vt. (AP) - Two days after the Vermont Senate voted to end the philosophical exemption for parents who don’t want their kids vaccinated, a senator opposed to the change delivered a tearful address about being attacked online, his father’s death and how scientific uncertainty led him to his decision.
“I know that science has offered and will offer great improvements in our lives through medical advancements,” Sen. David Zuckerman told his colleagues Friday. “But medical science also killed my father when I was a young boy having just turned 13.”
In his statement and a later interview, Zuckerman elaborated that his father, thoracic surgeon Dr. Walter Zuckerman, was an early user of a procedure involving radioactive barium. He and at least four other physicians who used the procedures later developed fatal stomach cancers, said Zuckerman.
Zuckerman, a Progressive-Democrat from Chittenden County, told of a burst of online vitriol following his vote Wednesday to keep the philosophical exemption.
“I have been attacked as being anti-science, not caring for those who are less able to protect themselves and mocked for my profession as being unqualified to make informed comments,” he said.
The statement came during announcements at the end of the Senate’s session on Friday. Other senators responded afterward with handshakes and hugs.
Sen. Brian Collamore, R-Rutland, voted the opposite way from Zuckerman. “In this issue, the public health factor to me was the tipping factor,” he said.
But afterward, “I went up to him and he put out his hand, and I said, “I don’t want to shake your hand. I want to give you a hug,’ and I did,” Collamore said later.
Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell, a sponsor of the amendment to eliminate the exemption, said he was not surprised by the outpouring of emotional support for Zuckerman.
“We can disagree as colleagues,” but the Senate is “like a family,” Campbell said. “My heart went out to him today.”
Wednesday’s vote to do away with the exemption followed defeat of an amendment by Zuckerman that would have required advances in genetic testing for vaccine allergies before making them a requirement for nearly all children attending school. The measure now goes to the House, which defeated similar legislation in 2012.
Zuckerman said in an interview he believes most people should be vaccinated, but that there is enough uncertainty surrounding the issue of negative reactions that the choice over childhood immunizations should be left to parents.
Zuckerman said constituents had told him of their children having severe allergic reactions after receiving vaccinations.
He argued that “government forcing that risk, as small as it might be, creates very real consequences for people.”
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