I am the mother of an almost 5-year-old girl with leukemia. I am also a primary care physician at the University of Vermont Medical Center. I support the removal of the philosophical exemption to vaccination by the Vermont Legislature.
My daughter Merin just endured 9 months of toxic chemotherapy and their side effects. Thankfully, she responded great to treatment and will be enrolling in kindergarten this fall while undergoing an additional year of maintenance therapy. What should be a time of celebration is marred by the risks she’ll encounter from the rising number of Vermont’s unvaccinated children.
Vermont Department of Health data show that the vaccine series completion rate in Burlington dips as low as 84.6 percent in one elementary school. The private school options are worse: a local school’s series completion rate is only 36.6 percent. I’ve talked to local administrators, and though sympathetic, they cannot even guarantee Merin’s placement in a fully vaccinated class.
The risk these preventable diseases pose to Merin cannot be underestimated. The possibility of exposure to chicken pox requires infusion with pooled varicella antibodies. Contraction of the disease mandates admission for IV antiviral therapy. Let’s not even discuss what would happen if the antivirals weren’t effective.
I understand that the Vermont Legislature has the hard job of balancing the rights of individuals against those of the common good. I, though, urge my elected representatives to understand that in this case, the vulnerable Vermonters who need their protection are not the aggressive minority of Vermont parents who choose to dismiss the personal and societal benefits of vaccines, but children like Merin and Vermont’s newborns, pregnant women, senior citizens, and immune compromised adults being treated for diseases like multiple sclerosis, rheumatoid arthritis and cancer.
Removing the philosophical exemption protects the vulnerable. It does not force a vaccine into anyone’s arm. Parents who are adamant about opting out of their duty to the common good then also bear the burden of opting out of the public resource of organized education.
Help me and stand up and protect those who cannot protect themselves. Please join me in advocating for legislation that protects Vermonters, like Merin, by following this link and contacting your legislator and urge them to support the removal of the philosophical exemption.
Mia Hockett, MD, is a primary care internal medicine physician at The University of Vermont Medical Center and an assistant professor at the Larner College of Medicine at UVM.