On May 4, 2015, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. visited Vermont.
Kennedy is a father of six and resolute defender of the environment. He serves as Vice Chair and Chief Prosecuting Attorney for Riverkeeper and President and Senior Attorney for the Waterkeeper Alliance and was invited by the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice in order to provide testimony to the Vermont Healthcare Committee on why they should keep the philosophical vaccine exemption.
His original testimony was scheduled to be 30 minutes in length, but he was cut to 15 minutes just after he sat in his chair. However, Kennedy delivered a clear and powerful message to Vermont’s citizen legislature, warning lawmakers that by removing the philosophical exemption, they would be taking away the last barrier (parents) standing between Big Pharma and Vermont’s children.
“Congress has taken away jurisdiction in federal and state courts of any case against the vaccine industry so nobody can sue them. There’s no discovery, no depositions, there’s no class actions, there’s no documents,” he said. “All those things that protect us are gone. The only thing left that protects that child from that company, the only barrier standing, is the parent. And now we want to take the parent away.”
– Robert F. Kennedy Jr. to Vermont lawmakers, May 4, 2016
Nicole Matten, mother of Kaylynn Matten, who died after a flu shot in 2011, was present for testimony, but was intentionally blocked from the camera’s view by Meg O’Donnell, lobbyist for UVM Medical Center (formerly Fletcher Allen), who stood directly in front of Mrs. Matten, despite repeated polite requests asking her to move. Mrs. Matten later testified before the committee.
Video of Testimony from RFK Jr.:
In the days leading up to Kennedy’s visit, a “sneak amendment” had been orchestrated by medical lobbyists in the Vermont Senate with the help of Senators Campbell (D) Mullin (R) and Sears (D) who introduced a last-minute, dead-of-night amendment to another bill. Parents were immediately barred from giving any oral testimony before the Senate – even while medical and pharmaceutical lobbyists played prominent roles. When the adulterated bill came back to the House, it was then volleyed between committees as a tactical measure. Later, a “grassroots” group of mothers was formed.
Both Governor Peter Shumlin and House Speaker Shap Smith were offered private audiences with RFK Jr., which they accepted and enjoyed the morning of Kennedy’s visit. That very same morning, the Moms for Mandatory Vaccination (“It Takes A State”) held a press conference with their children.
Once things got mucky, UVM Med Ctr President & Chief Operating Officer Eileen Whalen and UVM Med Ctr Chief Medical Officer Stephen Leffler joined the fray. After these two sent emails to their employees suggesting that employees should support obliterating the right to say no to a vaccine, several healthcare providers who worked at the facility said they felt silenced and worried about their jobs if they should speak out against the measure. Buses were provided for willing
lemmings employees. By contrast, hundreds of Vermonters drove themselves, and came out in protest.
On May 12, 2015, the VT House healthcare committee decided they preferred to table the measure for a year … but Speaker Shap Smith insisted that the bill be voted on and it hit the floor within two hours. The House was divided on the issue, but finally voted 85-57 to remove the philosophical exemption on the paper in front of them. To add insult to injury, the short debate (in which some outstanding lawmakers stood as champions for choice!), was followed by a cocktail party at the publicly-funded journalism outlet, VTDigger where Patty Komline, John Campbell and other lawmakers were seen celebrating their victory.
The next day, there was attempt to reconsider the vote, but it proceeded to the Governor’s desk instead…
Governor Shumlin signed the bill a few weeks later without fanfare, reversing his previous support for health choice. In response, members of the Vermont Coalition for Vaccine Choice called for reinstatement of the philosophical exemption in August of 2015. One year later, after no response, in August of 2016 the President of the Vermont Chapter of the American Academy of Pediatrics, thanked the House Speaker (Shap Smith) for his “help” in restricting a Vermonter’s “free exercise of moral (philosophic) rights.” In his letter Dr. Dinicola praises the move as headed in the right direction, but how can that be, since Vermonters have always had the right to say no – and now they do not have that right?
Kennedy’s written, referenced testimony can be reviewed, here: RFK Jr Testimony H98
Despite Shap Smith’s humble and intelligent persona, this piece of legislation (repealing a parent’s right to vaccine informed consent) was not his best work. It is my honest opinion that one day Shap will come to know that this was a mistake.
~ Jennifer Stella, Waitsfield, Vermont, August 17, 2016