California is taking steps to require vaccines for schoolchildren even if parents state religious objections.
California's Assembly passed a strict new proposal this month requiring that parents have their children vaccinated regardless of religious or personal belief. The state Senate approved an earlier draft which bodes well for Senate approval on the new measure. After that, the bill will travel to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown for his signature, writes the Los Angeles Times.
Quartz's Gwynn Guilford writes that the bill originated after a December 2014 outbreak of measles at Disneyland in Southern California, where a woman who had not been vaccinated started an epidemic that infected approximately 131 Californians and many from other states. Eighty-one patients from California had immunization statuses that were known, and of those 81, 70% had never been immunized.
Only Mississippi and West Virginia, along with California if the bill is signed, require immunizations in spite of parents' religious or personal stances, reports the National Conference of State Legislatures. The only exception in the California bill is a physician-approved exemption because of medical conditions like allergies and immune-system deficiencies.
The Associated Press quoted Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez (D-San Diego) in her presentation of the bill:
"Do we wait until we have a full-fledged crisis to protect the most vulnerable?"
The bill passed on a bipartisan 46-30 vote after significant opposition from thousands of parents calling their representatives and marching on the Capitol. Those in agreement were equally as fervent and stood by 7-year-old leukemia survivor Rhett Krawitt who, because he could not be vaccinated after chemotherapy, was nervous to return to school in the acutely under-vaccinated Marin County.
"We should fight for the liberty not just of those who don't want to vaccinate their kids, but for those who cannot," said Republican Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, R-Pleasanton, during Thursday's floor debate.
Still, opponents feel they are being bullied into making the decision to have their children vaccinated or to take their children out of school. Bill author Sen. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a pediatrician himself, and Sen. Bill Monning (D-Carmel) said they have been targeted for recall by those against the bill. In Monning's district, which includes Santa Cruz, there are a high number of parents who opt out of vaccinating their children. Monning says he has been forced to shut down his office because of safety concerns.
Democrats were divided on the issue.
"If anyone can tell me where the line for medical necessity reasonably ends to justify a law, then I will vote for this bill," Mike Gatto (D-Glendale) said. "Until then, this is a slippery slope."
One group opposed to the passing of the bill is Californians for Vaccine Choice. On their website they warn that the measure would "eliminate a parent's right to exempt their children from one, some, or all vaccines, a risk-laden medical procedure." The group continues by stating that California parents will be forced to vaccinate children with more than 40 doses of 10 federally recommended immunizations or homeschool their children unless a doctor will sign a release, which 99.99% of doctors refuse to do under federal guidelines, report Michael Martinez and Amanda Watts of CNN.
Denise Hassanzade Ajiri of The Christian Science Monitor writes that according to professor Mark Largent, a historian at Michigan State University in East Lansing who authored "Vaccine: The Debate in Modern America," parents who are against vaccinating their kids are not anti-vaccine, but are vaccine-anxious.
Health professionals are of the opinion that the risks of vaccines are lower than the diseases themselves. They add that the study that linked the vaccine for measles, mumps, and rubella to autism has been discredited, but some parents are still wary.
The Monitor notes that many Christian Science families also seek religious exemptions from vaccines.