Children whose parents refuse to get them vaccinated are a step closer to be barred from going to school in California.
The California Senate approved SB 277 on Thursday, legislation that would do away with personal belief and religious exemptions that allow parents to opt out of getting mandated vaccinations for their children, and still send those children to school.
Medical exemptions would still be allowed.
If it wins legislative approval and Gov. Jerry Brown signs it, California would join Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states in the nation that don’t allow vaccine exemptions for personal or religious beliefs.
Kay Pisark, who protested with other parents outside the California Senate while the SB 277 vote was being taken inside, told KGO-TV the legislation cuts into the fabric of what America is all about.
“It seems to me to be unconstitutional to deny a child the right to an education,” she said.
Democratic State Sen. Ben Allen, a co-sponsor of SB 277, told his colleagues before they voted the legislation was “essentially about answering the call of parents and the silent majority who supports vaccines.”
Sen. Richard Pan, M.D. (D), who co-sponsored the legislation with Allen, doesn’t buy the argument that SB 277 violates parental rights. He believes the state of California has the right and responsibility to “take action when public health is threatened.”
Sen. Allen said when a contagion spreads in a community with immunization rates below 90 percent, the protection provided by “herd immunity” can be at risk.
Pan and Allen said that means many people are at risk of becoming infected including people who cannot be immunized, including infants, chemotherapy patients and those with HIV or other conditions.
“A child should never have to suffer through and possibly die from a vaccine-preventable disease,” said Pan. “The personal belief exemption is now putting other schoolchildren and people in our community in danger, and if we fail to act, we will continue to see outbreaks just like the one at Disneyland.”
Ah yes, Disneyland.
Disease investigators say California’s Disneyland was Ground Zero for a measles outbreak in the first four months of 2015 that sickened 147 people in six U.S. states, including 131 in California. Another 159 people were diagnosed with measles in the Canadian province of Quebec, which has a historically low rate of vaccination.
Most of those who got sick at Disneyland were not vaccinated against measles. That started a legislative drive to do away with what pro-vaccination lawmakers called “loopholes” in California law that allowed parents to decline vaccinations for their children.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention statistics show between 3 and 4 percent of kindergartners are not vaccinated in California. That would seem to speak to the “silent majority” of parents who Allen said support SB 277.
“It is ridiculous and infuriating that in 2015 I have to worry that my son might get measles or whooping cough,” said Leah Russin, a mother from Palo Alto who advocated for passage of SB 277 to protect her 18-month-old son from vaccine-preventable diseases. “These diseases should not come back and parents who don’t accept medical science should not be allowed to put my child at risk of potentially fatal diseases.”
Pan and Allen believe the hesitation to vaccinate on the part of a growing number of parents stems from misinformation such as the now-retracted 1998 study that falsified data to purport a link between autism and the measles vaccine.
The study was authored by Andrew Wakefield — who, Allen said, was later found to be lying.
Pan, who is a pediatrician, said numerous subsequent studies worldwide involving hundreds of thousands of children have proved that vaccines are safe and do not cause autism.
Maybe so, but hundreds of people crammed themselves into a few small classrooms at a chiropractic college in late April to hear Wakefield tell them to take “pitchforks and torches” to the state Senate to fight against SB 277.
“Your rights are being ripped from you,” Wakefield said, the San Francisco Chronicle reported. “Parents are no longer going to be in charge of their own children. This is the fight that has to be taken to Sacramento.”
Wakefield warned SB 277 could usher in mandatory immunization for everyone in California, no matter if they are school-aged children or not, creating “a society that is dependent on vaccinations.”
And he told parents in his audience that state workers would be able to take their children away from them for vaccinations and “they will bring them back and leave you to pick up the pieces.”
Todd Holiday didn’t have a pitchfork or a torch when he demonstrated alongside Kay Pisark outside the state Senate in Sacramento while lawmakers voted inside. But his passion still burned bright.
“When they start taking informed consent away from a parent,” Holiday told KGO-TV, “that’s tyranny.”