UPDATE: SB277 moved closer to reality Wednesday after passing through California's senate education committee with a vote of 7-2. The committee, which was initially opposed to the bill, reportedly flipped after it was amended to include a group home-schooling option for kids of anti-vaxxers.
Please get this right, California.
Today in the Golden State, legislators will be debating Senate Bill 277. Introduced by Senator Richard Pan, a pediatrician, the bill would eliminate so-called “personal belief” exemptions from vaccination requirements for children to attend public schools, and would require school administrators to report to parents the vaccination rates within their districts.
It’s about time.
I have long advocated for stringent vaccination requirements for public school attendance, and applaud Sen. Pan’s efforts to tighten them in California. As the Disneyland measles outbreak earlier this year made plain, there are pockets of under-vaccination in parts of the state that leave the whole population vulnerable to otherwise-preventable diseases. There are schools in Marin County with vaccine refusal rates greater than 50 percent. That statistic reflects both an egregious attitude of entitlement and a shocking level of ignorance among an astounding number of parents in those communities.
When vaccine rates fall to such low levels, the herd immunity conferred by comprehensive immunization programs is lost. Parents who refuse to vaccinate their kids rely on this immunity to protect their own children, an act of bad citizenship that transfers the (imagined) risks onto other people. But when sufficient numbers of like-minded parents cluster together, there is no herd immunity to speak of, which is why we’re now seeing outbreaks of measles and other diseases.
Sen. Pan’s measure would change that. It would leave in place exemptions for legitimate medical reasons not to vaccinate (typically related to problems with the immune system), but would remove those premised on nothing more than a parent’s benighted beliefs. This is wholly appropriate, and will serve to ensure that public schools are not breeding grounds for future outbreaks.
Of course, the anti-vaccination crowd is not taking this lightly. There are reports of threats against Sen. Pan, who now must travel with additional security. Somewhat hilariously, other opponents to the bill are saying they will pull their children from schools if it passes and teach them at home instead. While some are characterizing these statements as “threats,” I prefer to think of them as “promises.” And I certainly hope they are kept.
If you refuse to vaccinate your children because of long-debunked fears about their safety, please do find an alternative to public schools to educate them. Please do homeschool them, and keep them from undermining the public health of everyone else. Please do bear the burden for your own selfish choices, and allow parents of children with leukemia or other illnesses that prevent them from being vaccinated themselves to send them to school without fear.
Please, keep your word.
Whether or not SB277 becomes law, as I fiercely hope it does, it is high time non-medical exemptions to vaccination requirements for public school attendance were scrutinized and reconsidered. There is no reason that those whose choices undermine the community’s health should enjoy unrestricted access to the community’s resources. Vaccine refusal should come with costs to those who choose it, and finding another classroom for their children should be one of them.