Editorials

Panel sides with science, passes vaccine measure

Robert Kennedy Jr. speaks with audience members at the Crest Theater in Sacramento on Tuesday. Kennedy was in town to promote the movie, ‘Trace Amounts’ which challenges the safety and efficacy of vaccines for children.
Robert Kennedy Jr. speaks with audience members at the Crest Theater in Sacramento on Tuesday. Kennedy was in town to promote the movie, ‘Trace Amounts’ which challenges the safety and efficacy of vaccines for children. rbenton@sacbee.com

The anti-vaxxers made a real racket at the Capitol on Wednesday. They shouted and waved placards and cheered for Robert F. Kennedy Jr., their celebrity spokesman, as he warned of the supposed dangers of requiring schoolchildren to get vaccines.

Even in quiet mode, they heckled the Senate Health Committee with sobs, snickers, hallway applause, disruptive shouting and the occasional Occupy-style display of annoying mass jazz hands. No matter.

After nearly four hours of testimony, the committee voted 6-2 to allow SB 277 to clear its first hurdle. Health Committee Chairman Ed Hernandez, D-Azusa, abstained, while Sen. Jim Nielsen, R-Gerber, and Sen. Richard Roth, D-Riverside, voted against it. All three should know better, and probably do. But the six senators in the majority did the right thing.

The bill, introduced in response to the Disneyland measles epidemic, would end California’s overly lax personal-belief exemption for parents who don’t want their kids to be vaccinated. Had it not been for teeming pockets of vaccine resisters in California, the Disneyland measles outbreak wouldn’t have spread to three countries earlier this year.

Measles, which kills one or two out of every 1,000 patients, was until recently virtually eradicated in this country. Now it’s making a comeback. So are whooping cough and polio. A big part of the reason is that parents, driven by fear, distrust of authority and misinformation, have let their unfounded beliefs supersede public health.

Vaccinations have revolutionized health care worldwide. They don’t cause autism, as the anti-vaxxers insist. And they certainly aren’t ground zero for a “holocaust,” as Kennedy irresponsibly told an audience of true believers at the screening of an anti-vax propaganda movie at the Crest Theater the other night.

In Third World countries, people walk miles to clinics to immunize their children. It’s a perhaps unfortunate mark of our privilege that we’ve found it so easy to forget the real death and suffering that happens when lethal diseases like pertussis or diphtheria are allowed to spread.

Emotional critics accused Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, the bill’s authors, of “medical tyranny,” “fascism” and “forced vaccination.” Poppycock. The bill maintains the existing opt-out for children with medical conditions that preclude vaccination, and doesn’t apply to children who are home-schooled.

But the anti-vax movement isn’t about facts. Some are bereaved mothers who blame vaccines for a child’s SIDS death or sudden unexplained illness. Some distrust the pharmaceutical industry and public health officials. Some want “choice” and “freedom.” Some are just loving people who don’t want to be bad parents.

We sympathize. But their concerns, however heartfelt, don’t give them the right to invite lethal diseases back into the general population.

This bill is going to have an uphill battle as it makes its way toward passage, but it’s an important bill.

The majority of people are rooting for it, even if they aren’t making as much noise.

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