Wednesday December 5, 2012

Philosophical exemption vs. public health: No contest

Editor of the Reformer:

Immunizations are one of the greatest public health achievements in history. Because of immunizations, we no longer fear smallpox, polio, measles, mumps, rubella, and other once common diseases. In the United States, immunizations annually prevent over 2.4 million incidences of those diseases, and save over $50 billion in direct and societal cost every generation. Yet, earlier this year, in a great step backward, the Vermont Legislature failed to recognize the importance of immunizations. The Legislature voted to keep the philosophical exemption -- meaning a parent can refuse to immunize their child if they hold "philosophical convictions opposed to immunization."

Required immunizations work on a very simple principle: If enough people are immunized against a disease, then the entire population -- or herd -- will be protected against epidemics of that disease. The philosophical exemption undermines the foundation of this herd immunity and thereby jeopardizes the health of every Vermonter. Vermont already has the second highest exemption rate, and one of the lowest childhood immunization rates in the nation. In fact, our vaccination rate for some diseases is uncomfortably close to the threshold needed to protect the community. So clearly, the legislature was not acting in the best interest of public health when it caved to the small, but loud, group of "anti-vacciners."

Now, I’m being unfair to our representatives. They did include provisions in the bill that makes parents seeking a philosophical exemption read a short pamphlet from the Department of Health that talk about the importance of vaccinations and addresses common concerns about vaccines. The parent then sign a form saying they read and understood the contents of the pamphlet. However, now those same anti-vacciners are protesting because they feel that making them sign the forms "implies they agree with the Health Department’s assessment of [vaccination’s] risks and benefits."

Thus, the form is compelling them to speak, violating their rights.

I’m not a legal scholar, so I can’t confidently comment on their claim; but I’m confident in my understanding of the science of immunization. And to quote Neil deGrasse Tyson, "The good thing about science is that it’s true whether or not you believe in it." These anti-vacciners choose to ignore what hundreds and hundreds of peer reviewed papers and public health experts all say. Vaccines are safe, effective, and the best way to protect from epidemic diseases. More importantly, refusing to vaccinate your child not only puts your child at risk but also threatens the health of everyone else.

I’m a bit late to the show, but considering this new development, I urge the Legislature to reconsider the philosophical exemption. The United States and The Vermont Supreme Court have ruled that a philosophical belief is not protected speech, nor would it give anyone the right to endanger public health. It is therefore unacceptable that such an egregious threat to public health exists. The Legislature should act in the interest of all Vermonters and eliminate the philosophical exemption.

Kai-Ming Pu,

New Haven, Conn., Nov. 30

Time to end the occupation

Editor of the Reformer:

Recent letter writers, in support of Israel’s recent attacks on Gaza, make it sound as if Israel and Gaza are two equally independent countries at war with each other. But in fact Israel is the master country, illegally occupying Gaza. It’s true that Israel dismantled its illegal settlements in Gaza, but it still controls Gaza’s borders, its airspace, its coast by naval blockade and determines what goods and people can and cannot go in and out of Gaza. That’s occupation and it’s illegal.

Gaza’s rocket attacks on Israeli citizens are condemnable, but the overwhelming wrong in this situation is Israel’s. It insists it has the high road because it does not deliberately target civilians in Gaza, but the Israeli government knows full well that its bombing raids on Gaza inevitably lead to civilian casualties -- hundreds this time, thousands in a similar attack several years ago.

The only way for Israel to have security is to cease its illegal occupation of both Gaza and the West Bank, something the whole world (with the sole exception of the United States) has called on Israel to do for decades. And to claim that such a call is anti-Semitic or anti-Israeli is belied by the fact that a sizable minority within Israel calls for the same thing.

Shoshana Rihn,

Brattleboro, Nov. 24

Praise for the Co-op

Editor of the Reformer:

Thanks very much for Thursday’s article on the Brattleboro Food Co-op’s "Main Street and Corridor Revitalization Award" from the EPA ("Co-op receives national award"). Our own Co-op was one of only four winning entries nationally to get the EPA’s recognition. We should all be very proud. And huge thanks to the Co-op’s General Manager, Alex Gyori, his management team and the Co-op staff for making this project happen; it took an amazing amount of work and dedication, and we appreciate what you’ve done for our community.

John Hatton,

Westminster, Nov. 29

Remembering Bloomgren

Editor of the Reformer:

Like many of his students, colleagues and friends, I was shocked and deeply saddened to learn of Gary Blomgren’s untimely death.

As is so apparent from the letters that have already appeared in the Reformer, Gary had an inexplicable ability to genuinely connect with the world around him. Perhaps this is what made his classroom such a comfortable shelter from the trials and tribulations of high school.

As his loyal student, I was grateful to settle in to the long block-period studio classes -- the smell of paint, charcoal and fixative sprays mingling with Bob Marley tunes and Gary’s joyful chuckles. I was then, and am now, a very studious person, but art classes were an outlet to express myself through my hands, through the process of making something tangible. As a college professor, I now recognize what Gary must have all along: by asking us first to look, and then to cut, glue, paint, draw, make, Gary taught us how to step outside of our narcissistic, adolescent selves, and to immerse ourselves in something else, something fun! And let’s face it, high school isn’t really all that fun.

This is not to trivialize the careful planning and lessons that Gary undoubtedly crafted for our benefit, nor the tremendous sense of comradery and guidance that he offered. But, I suppose for me, the most important and enduring lesson that I learned from him was how to let go of the pressures of grades, assignments and tasks and instead to relish the pleasure of crisp drawing paper, sharpened graphite and gummy eraser. I loved art before I took Gary’s classes, but it was his presence at that pivotal developmental moment "when young people teeter on the edge of abandoning the things they love" that ensured my continued commitment to it. For that, and his beautiful spirit, I am very grateful.

Dr. Erin E. Benay,

Assistant Professor of Art History,

Case Western Reserve University,

Cleveland, Ohio, Nov. 30

Gary will be missed

Editor of the Reformer:

Encounters with some people can be counted on to be joyful and fulfilling. Gary Blomgren was one of those people. He will be sorely missed.

Sam Groves,

Halifax, Dec. 1