In California, an aggressive mandatory vaccination bill has passed the State Assembly and is now headed to the desk of Governor Jerry Brown. Despite protests from parents seeking to protect their rights, the bill has steadily gained traction among lawmakers. Last month, we reported that the Senate passed the bill in a 25-10 vote. The bill went on to the Assembly, where it underwent review by committee, before it was approved with a 46-30 vote yesterday, on June 25.
The fervor for mandatory vaccinations was fueled in large part by a measles outbreak that sprouted at Disneyland last December. The outbreak was hardly an epidemic, though, affecting just 131 people and was fully contained within just a few months. A significant portion of the sick were unvaccinated against measles, and lawmakers and lobbyists supporting mandatory vaccinations have used that fact to insist that every single child should be fully vaccinated in order to protect herd immunity.
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Right now, there are just 13,500 kindergarteners with religious and philosophical vaccine exemptions on record in California’s public schools. According to the California Department of Education, there were 506,831 kindergarteners enrolled for the 2013-14 school year. These figures illustrate that less than 3 percent of kindergarteners’ families seek vaccine exemptions.
Parents opposed to the bill are not necessarily looking to opt-out of vaccines entirely, however. Rather, the question on the table is whether the state has the right to make medical decisions on parents’ behalf, rather than protecting rights of the individual and the family to choose when, how, and how much to vaccinate their children.
Under the provisions of the law, current grade schoolers will not be forced onto a vaccination schedule until they reach the seventh grade. However, all incoming kindergarteners will be required to have all of the vaccines deemed necessary by the California State Department of Public Health. The law would not allow for any alternative or delayed vaccination schedules, except in the instance where a doctor provides a medical exemption. Exemptions like that would be rare, and would likely only apply to children in temporary situations, like those recovering from cancer treatments or other immune-suppressing conditions that make new vaccinations undesirable. The latest version of the bill includes a measure for doctors to factor in family history when considering a medical exemption, but that addition doesn’t offer much solace to those opposed to the bill on principle.
If Governor Brown signs the bill into law, and it is expected that he will, it would make California only the third state in the country to enact such a measure, which will require all incoming public school kindergarteners to have full schedule vaccines, regardless of their parents’ personal, religious, or philosophical objections. Parents in California will no longer have the right to do what they believe is best for their child’s health. The state of California will simply tell them what to do.