California Focus: Anti-vaxxers need a dose of reality
The more credible challenges are raised against their claim that vaccines cause autism and other problems in children, the more aggressive becomes the anti-vaccination camp in California.
During the very same week that Danish researchers released a study of 650,000 youngsters over 10 years that found absolutely “no association” between autism and vaccines for diseases from polio and measles to whooping cough and hepatitis, the anti-vaccine camp again raised claims there is such a link.
That contention – often repeated by America’s most visible anti-vaxxer, Robert F. Kennedy Jr. – is based on a thoroughly debunked British study from early in this century.
Nowhere are the anti-vaccination folks more active than in California. In the last two months they’ve gone after Democratic state Sen. Richard Pan of Sacramento, co-author of the state’s newest law demanding vaccination as a condition of public school registration, and attacked a legislative effort to prevent a repeat of a deadly hepatitis A outbreak in San Diego.
The bill by Democratic Assembly members Todd Gloria and Lorena Gonzalez, both from San Diego, doesn’t mention vaccinations, but would demand that local authorities take “any action the health officer deems necessary to control the spread of (a) communicable disease.”
Anti-vaxxers responded that this could allow county health departments to order adults vaccinated, not just schoolchildren. “This is a pretty scary bill if they don’t make any amendments to it,” anti-vaccination activist Denise Marie said in a Facebook video that got thousands of views. Denise Marie does not provide her surname.
Her video was one factor inducing Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg to promise the social medium will remove false anti-vaccine information from its service.
Other anti-vaxxers are at least as vocal. The Voice for Choice activist group released a public statement attacking Pan for “invading the doctor-patient relationship.” Early this year, Pan, the Legislature’s only pediatrician, complained that some doctors are falsely writing medical exemptions from vaccination for their young patients in exchange for payments of about $300.
Pan also wrote the U.S. surgeon general reminding him that compulsory vaccinations are a longstanding American tradition. “George Washington mandated smallpox inoculation of his army during the Revolutionary War to ensure our country’s freedom,” he said. “I call on you to protect our right as Americans to be free of preventable disease…”
All this came against the background of a major outbreak of measles in counties in southern Washington hosting wealthy suburbs of Portland, Oregon. More than 55 cases were recorded just west of Vancouver, Washington, an area where vaccination rates had lately fallen below 90 percent.
When those rates drop below about 95 percent, vulnerable persons can be more easily infected by others who unknowingly carry the disease.
But outbreaks of hepatitis in San Diego and measles among Disneyland patrons, New York residents and Portland-area suburbanites don’t deter the anti-vaccination campaigns. They don’t acknowledge it, but they’re putting their unfounded fears ahead of the possibility of deadly disease outbreaks.
Pan’s 2015 bill ending the religious objection exemption to vaccination for new public schoolers – mostly kindergarten pupils – was supposed to stop the debate.
It had the reverse effect, firing up opponents who now turn out in significant numbers for legislative hearings here and around the nation. It also expanded the “doctor’s recommendation” market that began with the 1996 Proposition 215 allowing medical marijuana use with such a note.
The bottom-line fact in all this is that measles can kill, while vaccines never have. Not even when a few persons have had strong reactions to them.
Here’s what has to happen: Lawmakers must stand up to the anti-vaccination crowd, a very small minority according to every poll. They must pass the Gloria-Gonzalez bill for starters. They also ought to create and pass a new law requiring more than a mere doctor’s note claiming potential ill effects in order to exempt a child from vaccinations. Perhaps a requirement for some sort of laboratory tests demonstrating a vaccine allergy would be appropriate along with a doctor’s note.
Anything short of this leaves the door open for evasion of the vaccination requirements needed to once again make California free of diseases that formerly plagued the entire world, but are now under control except in areas with low vaccination rates.
Email Thomas Elias at email@example.com.