With the no-nonsense dispatch of a good family doctor, Gov. Jerry Brown on Tuesday overlooked the kicking and screaming of vaccine resisters and tightened California’s lax school immunization laws.
“The science is clear,” Brown explained, accurately, in a signing statement. “Vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases.”
Never has such an obvious point sounded so refreshing. For months, the noise around Senate Bill 277 has obscured the glaring need to get vaccination rates back to a more secure threshold.
Now, with the bill’s passage, parents who want their kids to attend school or day care with other children will have to vaccinate them against communicable childhood diseases or get a licensed physician to give them a medical waiver. There will be no more religious opt-outs, no personal-belief exemptions.
Though that may sound dramatic, it isn’t. The new law is more flexible than its opponents pretend, allowing unimmunized kids to stay in school until their next vaccine checkpoint, for example, and letting hard-core resisters home-school together. And most families, like Brown, already consider immunization a given – something responsible people just do to prevent the spread of lethal scourges like whooping cough, diphtheria, rubella, measles and polio.
So for sensible Californians, this law will change nothing. Unfortunately, the vaccine resisters have made it clear that they won’t just take their lollipop from Dr. Brown and go home now.
Abetted by the state chiropractic lobby, they already have tarred the new law’s backers as fascists, racists, tools of Big Pharma and child abusers. They have stalked lobbyists, threatened state lawmakers and deployed crazy theatrics. Even as Brown read the bill, white-clad protesters stood vigil outside the Capitol, singing the anti-authoritarian anthem from “The Hunger Games” movies. (“Hunger Games” is fiction, like many anti-vax claims.)
Now there is talk of lawsuits, and we expect a new bill will arise next year to weaken this one. Meanwhile, Sen. Richard Pan, who should get combat pay for the wrath he endured as the bill’s most visible co-author, could face a recall in his Sacramento district.
Pan and others – Sen. Ben Allen, Assemblywoman Lorena Gonzalez, Assemblywoman Catharine Baker, Sen. Bill Monning, to name a few – deserve gratitude, not cheap payback. Standing up for science shouldn’t take this much courage.
This was a historic measure, and California is healthier for the contribution they and the governor have made.