Rarely has a new law been so urgently and obviously needed as the broad children’s vaccination requirement now being carried by the state Legislature’s only medical doctor, Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento.
While the measure has encountered resistance in the Legislature and even death threats to Pan, there is no factual basis for that vehement opposition, while increasing numbers of young parents are creating demand for it.
One is Madeleine Kauffman (a fictitious name for a real person), mother of four and herself a doctor. She spoke the other day in San Francisco about why this tough law is needed. “Normally, I would take all my kids back East to visit my parents over Spring Break,” she said during a dinner party. “But my youngest is just 2 months old and with the measles outbreak, I couldn’t see doing that. So I’m here.”
She is not alone. Many conversations with young mothers confirm a widespread fear, thousands of infants now being kept in homes all around California and not taken out because of concerns over the dozens of measles cases that broke out when the illness spread from one unvaccinated child at Disneyland.
“There is strong evidence that lower vaccination rates are the reason for outbreaks of measles this year and for outbreaks of pertussis (whooping cough) in 2010 and 2013,” said Pan, a practicing pediatrician.
He’s not backing down in the face of the death threats.
While an assemblyman in 2012, Pan sponsored another bill aiming to make it harder for parents to evade getting their children vaccinated before enrolling them in public schools. Each parent declining vaccination, that law says, must present written evidence of speaking with a health professional before declining vaccinations for a child.
But when Gov. Jerry Brown signed that bill, he attached a message asking state officials to create a new form allowing parents to check off a box saying – without any proof – that vaccinations run contrary to their religious belief. Never mind that no organized religion disapproves vaccinations, which have all but ended onetime scourges like measles, mumps, rubella and polio.
No link between that form and lower vaccination rates – surveys have found as many as 38 percent of children are unvaccinated in some nursery schools in Los Angeles and the San Francisco Bay area – has yet been firmly established. And Pan reports that under his previous bill, the non-vaccination rate has dropped 20 percent statewide.
But the outbreaks make it clear that more is needed, and Pan’s new law – backed by the California State PTA – would remove all exemptions from vaccination for public school children other than medical necessity. Children with problems like allergies or immune suppression would remain exempt under this new proposed law, known as SB 277.
For sure, anti-vaxxers declaiming their right to freedom are in fact denying liberty to many thousands of children either too young or too allergic to be vaccinated.
“This may be a sensitive issue for some,” said state PTA president Colleen A.R. You. “However…the vaccines in use today are extremely safe and effective.”
Pan notes that even his new law is not a universal requirement for vaccination. “But if you don’t vaccinate your child, you must take responsibility,” he said in an interview. “If you’re not getting your kids vaccinated, you can still home school them, but you won’t be putting them in with kids that are not getting vaccinated due to genuine medical necessity.”
Pan says one reason for resistance to vaccination is that many
parents have never seen the diseases involved and so don’t consider them deadly. “Also,” he said, “there’s misinformation that hypes discredited myths about things like a link between vaccination and autism. The only study that claimed this turned out to involve just 12 children and its methodology was extremely flawed. That idea is just plain wrong and invalid.”
Pan doesn’t worry that Brown might veto his new bill, which would eliminate the governor’s “check this box” exemption allowing lazy parents to lie about religious beliefs.
“I’m sure I will sit down and talk with the governor about this,” he said. “We will work with him.”
The bottom line is that recent medical history demonstrates few new laws have ever been more needed than this one. Brown rarely reveals in advance how he will act on any bill, but it would be a dangerous travesty if he didn’t sign this bill and reverse his earlier miscue.