California Forum

On vaccinations, California could learn from Mississippi, West Virginia

Sens. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, right, and Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, discuss the amendments they made to their measure requiring California schoolchildren to get vaccinated, during a hearing of the Senate Education Committee.
Sens. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, right, and Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, discuss the amendments they made to their measure requiring California schoolchildren to get vaccinated, during a hearing of the Senate Education Committee. The Associated Press

Stereotypes die hard, which makes it fun to watch one being shattered during the ongoing debate in the Legislature whether to mandate vaccinations for California schoolchildren.

While legislators dilly, dally and vacillate in response to a small but loud minority opposed to vaccines on a variety of questionable grounds, two states usually viewed among the most backward in the country are light years ahead of us.

Mississippi and West Virginia make it very simple. They refuse to exempt children from mandatory vaccinations on either personal or religious beliefs.

My wife grew up in a small central Mississippi town and never heard any objections on any grounds, and this is a state that may be one of the most religiously fundamental and least educated in the nation.

“Everybody was grateful to get them,” she told me. “They were free and the only objections were from the kids who just didn’t like getting shots.”

Not surprisingly, childhood diseases such as measles, mumps, diphtheria and chickenpox have been virtually eradicated in those states, despite their high rates of poverty.

It’s only in recent years that a discredited report linking vaccinations to autism started raising alarms with some parents in California and elsewhere, who despite scientific evidence to the contrary still hold tight to that fear.

Then out of nowhere came the specious “freedom of religion” argument, which is used so often these days to justify all manner of behavior.

But the fact is there is no credible evidence that any religious doctrine addresses vaccinations, so it would seem that parents who are using religion as an excuse are really only expressing some personal philosophical belief.

Even the Christian Science Church, which usually rejects medical solutions in favor of spiritual healing, has no prohibition against vaccinations.

“Multiple religious doctrines or imperatives call for preservation of life, caring for others and duty to community,” researcher John D. Grabenstein wrote in the scientific journal Vaccine two years ago.

He also wrote that he could find no sustained teaching against vaccinations in any major religion, from Christianity to Islam.

Meanwhile, our Legislature continues to plod along on what ought to be a no-brainer.

The bill, SB 277, by Sens. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, already has been watered down to exempt home schools, even if all those being home schooled are not in the same family, and to provide other educational options. Yet critics remain adamant that their personal beliefs should override public safety.

Another legislative hurdler was cleared Tuesday when the legislation passed the Senate Judiciary Committee, but its ultimate fate remains far from certain.

One of the more ridiculous arguments is that requiring vaccinations would constitute violence against children. But the real violence is refusing to protect children against diseases that can so easily be eliminated.

Turning that same argument around, it could just as easily be argued that refusing to have a child vaccinated amounts to nothing more than child abuse.

Supposedly sophisticated California could take a lesson from supposedly unsophisticated West Virginia and the young mother there, Paula Beasley of Cross Lanes, who told a New York Times reporter, “I don’t think it’s a big deal. Everyone needs to (have their children vaccinated). It’s all for the greater good.”

William Endicott is a former deputy managing editor of The Sacramento Bee.

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