Pass vaccination bill quickly and end this ugly fight

A pediatrician holds a dose of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine at his practice in Northridge.
A pediatrician holds a dose of the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine at his practice in Northridge. Associated Press file

California’s effort to tighten school vaccination requirements is reasonable, scientific and very much needed. But that has not stopped vaccine opponents from turning a true public service into one of the ugliest fights to hit the Capitol in a while.

Senate Bill 277 goes to its first and only Assembly committee this week and from there to the full house. Its opponents are trying to get it assigned to a second committee. It has already had three long, raucous hearings in the Senate and has been amended to satisfy all but the most extreme opponents. Lawmakers should pass it quickly and send it to the governor.

This is not an extreme bill, but the vitriol and incivility around it have become problematic. State lawmakers have received death threats. Capitol phone lines have been crashed by mass out-of-state call-ins. A health care lobbyist has been cyberstalked and harassed by vaccine resisters who mistakenly believed she was shilling for drug makers.

Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, the pediatrician who has co-authored Senate Bill 277, has been called a child killer, depicted as Hitler and has endured photos of his home being posted on Facebook, with his home phone number and address.

Like the lobbyist, Pan has small children. Last week, opponents of SB 277 filed recall papers against him.

Sen. Bill Monning, D-Carmel, also has been served with an intent to recall, by vaccine resisters in Santa Cruz who have joined forces with the local Republican Party. Twice now, threats and protests at his district office have so frightened his staffers that they asked to be escorted home by the California Highway Patrol.

Vaccine resisters have targeted at least five other state senators for recall – all so that a misguided minority can duck their social obligation to vaccinate their children. This argument has to be settled; it already has gone too far.

Here are the facts:

▪ Immunization is one of society’s great public health achievements. Some may be too young to remember, but it has not been that long in this country since polio, pertussis, rubella, measles and other communicable diseases could sweep through a community in a matter of weeks and claim hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.

▪ For the public to remain protected, vaccination rates have to remain above a critical mass; otherwise childhood diseases will again spread, threatening the lives of infants, the elderly and the medically fragile.

▪ “Herd immunity” generally translates into between 90 and 95 percent of school-aged children. But in recent years, in communities from West Los Angeles to Santa Cruz and Marin County, parents used California’s “personal belief exemption” to avoid getting their children vaccinated, and rates dipped far below that. Better information has helped, but not quickly enough.

Under SB 277, unvaccinated children would have to get a medical exemption from a physician or be home-schooled. These boundaries make sense, given the risk to public health.

A recent poll found that 67 percent of Californians believe children should be vaccinated to attend school, and more than 80 percent believe vaccines are safe and healthy. The science backs them. Pass SB 277 and let’s be done with it.