Brown signs vax bill, drawing lawsuit vow

vaccine121014As Gov. Jerry Brown signed a tough new vaccination bill into law, its vociferous opponents — who had fought the measure tooth and nail — vowed to sue the state and rally voters against it.

Senate Bill 277 “requires almost all California schoolchildren to be fully vaccinated in order to attend public or private school, regardless of their parents’ personal or religious beliefs,” as the San Jose Mercury News reported.

“‘We are going to have a referendum to ask the public to put a hold on the law,’ said Palo Alto resident Christina Hildebrand, president and co-founder of A Voice For Choice. ‘We will continue to fight this — we are not going away,’ said the mother of two unvaccinated children.”

The prospect of a legal challenge was quickly downplayed by one of the bill’s coauthors, state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. “The courts have been very clear that you don’t have a right to spread a communicable disease, that there’s a public interest in keeping our communities safe from disease,” he said, according to the Sacramento Bee.

So-called “herd immunity” has been hard to maintain in recent years in some parts of the state. As the Associated Press noted, “suburban areas have seen a decline in immunizations in the past decade, with some schools having immunization rates near 50 percent. Herd immunity for measles is between 92 and 94 percent, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

A tipping point

The new law made California’s inoculation rules among the nation’s strictest. Only Mississippi and West Virginia also bar religious and personal exemptions while maintaining a narrow allowance for medical excuses. (“Unvaccinated children without a medical exemption would have to be home-schooled or study in small, private homeschooling groups,” Reuters noted.)

But as is often the case with California, the state’s about-face on vaccines was set upon by critics and supporters as a potential bellwether and momentum-shifter for similar regulations across the country.

Capturing an emerging consensus in the realm of health policy, Wired characterized the situation as a “historical inflection point.”

“If public health researchers and politicians can look carefully at the state of the state’s vaccination rates and disease numbers before and after SB277 is enacted, they’ll get a powerful tool to either support more bans of these exemptions — several of which are on the table in other states right now — or drive the United States toward different, perhaps more effective strategies to reduce vaccine-preventable disease.”

Pan himself lent his support to the idea that other states should follow where he has led California. “Asked if he thought California’s action would spark similar changes in other states, Pan said Brown’s swift action on the bill will send a ‘strong signal’ across the country,” reported the Mercury News. “Neither California nor any other state ‘wants to continue to see [outbreaks] happen in their neighborhoods,’ Pan said.”

A reversal for Brown

Supporters of California’s now-obsolete exemptions had put faith in Gov. Brown, who ensured not long ago that Golden State parents could claim a religious objection to vaccinating their children. “Brown’s decision to sign the bill marks an about-face for the former seminarian who three years ago opposed eliminating the religious exemption for school vaccines,” Reuters observed.

In 2012, signing prior legislation “requiring parents to consult a health professional before declining vaccinations for their schoolchildren,” Brown set up a special carve-out for those claiming an exemption on account of religious beliefs.

“In his signing statement Tuesday, the Democratic governor noted that the bill exempts children whose family medical histories lead a physician to recommend against immunization,” according to the Sacramento Bee. “But unlike in 2012, the former Jesuit seminarian said nothing about religion.”

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