Editorial: Panel, CTA should back vaccine bill

SB 277 co-author, Sen. Richard Pan
SB 277 co-author, Sen. Richard Pan hamezcua@sacbee.com

The Senate Education Committee has every reason to pass the vaccination bill authored by Sens. Richard Pan and Ben Allen when it comes before the panel Wednesday.

Senate Bill 277 is a sensible, science-based measure aimed at a gathering public health crisis. It would end California’s overly lax personal belief exemption and bring state law more in line with the urgency of current need and most of the rest of the country.

The majority of the public backs it, and it doesn’t harm its opponents, though they don’t believe it.

And unlike so much legislation that churns through the Capitol each session, this bill matters. If it doesn’t pass, and the next outbreak claims lives – because there will be a next outbreak, and the diseases being brought back by vaccine resisters are lethal – no after-the-fact fix will undo the damage. The outrage will be mighty, and voters will want to know whom to blame.

Despite all this, the education committee was a quivering mass of self-doubt last week in the face of vaccine resisters. The lawmakers need to grow a backbone. Making vaccinations a condition of school enrollment is well within the state’s constitutional rights.

No one is going to be deprived of an education. If a child has a valid medical reason for not being immunized, he or she will be able to attend school with a note from the doctor. Otherwise, parents can home-school; amendments added Tuesday would expand the options to include multifamily home-schools and independent study.

That’s plenty. Protests aside, we place lots of conditions on the right to sit in a classroom with others. Kids can’t come to school with guns, no matter their parents’ regard for the Second Amendment. Kids can’t come to school naked, even if their families are nudists.

So why contort a whole system to serve the debunked fears of science deniers who think the social contract shouldn’t apply to them?

For the past week, important voices have been weighing in in support of this measure, including the California Medical Association, the California School Boards Association, Kaiser Permanente and the California State PTA.

The California Teachers Association so far has taken a neutral position on SB 277, but according to the state council representative whose committee made that recommendation, that was only because the 30 or so members studying the bill were pressed for time and “didn’t have enough research” to make a decision.

Linda Chan, a Los Angeles-area community college professor who heads the CTA School Safety/School Management Committee, told a Sacramento Bee editorial board member on Tuesday that the group had 15 bills to weigh and knew vaccines were “polarizing,” so they decided to “watch” SB 277 until June, when the council meets next.

“That doesn’t mean we can’t change our position between now and then,” Chan said, adding that, like state lawmakers, the committee felt whipsawed between the arguments over public good vs. personal freedom.

The CTA should support this, never mind union voices that have emerged since, worrying that the bill might lead to – gasp! – mandatory vaccinations for teachers. It’s a powerful player, and the kids it says it cares about need this measure.

It’s a small world, crawling with diseases long since eradicated in this country, and the schools here are an international crossroads. We need to stand strong for the sake of our public health.