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Anti-vaccine seminar sparks outcry in Vermont ski town

A seminar that includes national anti-vaccination advocates is causing a stir in a Vermont ski resort town, where some parents and local doctors worry some families might be persuaded not to vaccinate their children.

Stowe chiropractor Dr. Bradley Rauch, who is co-sponsoring Saturday's "Hope and Healing for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders" program with Vermonters for Vaccine Choice, insisted the seminar "is absolutely not an anti-vaccination event."

"It is about causes for and improvements in health outcomes," he said Thursday.

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Among the topics to be discussed are lifestyle choices, nutrition, gut health, hyperbaric oxygen therapy and genetically modified foods, said Rauch who plans to open a center called the Vermont Center for Autism and Neurodevelopmental Disorders in Stowe next year.

"Are vaccines part of that discussion? Of course they are," he said.

Parent Tom Rogers, a community member opposed to the seminar, said Wednesday that its contents are "misinformation and anti-science."

Dr. Robert Arnot, whose child is in daycare in Stowe, worries that anti-vaccination advocates are targeting Vermont, and some parents in the region may choose not to vaccinate their children, which could increase the risk of measles.

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Arnot has seen epidemics, such as an ebola outbreak in Uganda where a doctor he worked with died in a matter of days, and cholera during the Rwandan genocide, where Arnot said he came down with the disease after treating a child.

Vaccines are "one of greatest public health triumphs that there's been over the last century," he said Thursday.

Having the seminar at the school also sends a terrible message, he said. "There's an implied endorsement even though the schools say anybody can come here, we have nothing to do with it," he said.

School Superintendent Tracy Wrend had asked the organizers to consider relocating the event based on community concerns but said organizers declined to do so. It's the school district's goal to support and promote a safe and healthy environment for children, she said, adding that she understood the controversy but the school also has an obligation to respect people's right to free speech.

"Stowe schools have a long-held policy of making the facilities available to the community, which in no way implies an endorsement or sponsorship of the event being held," she said.

Instead of picketing the event, opponents are holding a bake sale on Saturday to support public health and autism advocacy.

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