As California kids head back to school amid tighter vaccine restrictions, the medical establishment has decided to follow our lead.
Good for the American Academy of Pediatrics, which on Monday issued a new policy opposing all nonmedical exemptions for vaccinations, saying that if parents refuse to immunize their children, pediatricians should tell them to find another doctor. It’s unfortunate, but given the spread of anti-vax misinformation, a firm stance is needed nationally.
California knows first-hand what can happen when vaccine rates fall below critical mass, thanks to vaccine resisters. In 2014, a single visitor to Disneyland over Christmas infected some 125 people in three countries and eight states.
That public health crisis – fueled by low vaccination rates in pockets throughout California – prompted lawmakers to end the state’s overly lax “personal belief exemption” to school vaccination requirements. Led by Sen. Richard Pan, a Sacramento Democrat who is a pediatrician, the state now allows opt-outs for medical reasons and nothing else.
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California’s pediatric health organizations supported Pan’s Senate Bill 277, but the national academy until now has been much more cautious – unfortunately so, because vaccine resisters have used the lack of a national stance to challenge California’s hard line.
At the moment, only two other states, West Virginia and Mississippi, have such stringent requirements. That needs to change. Disease doesn’t stop at the state line, and the anti-vax movement has been an international phenomenon, fueled by internet disinformation.
Low vaccination rates put everyone’s health at risk by lowering so-called “herd immunity” in the general population and letting lethal diseases make a comeback. It’s not only a danger, but a taxpayer expense. And it’s time-consuming: In a 2011 survey of pediatricians, 53 percent said parental concerns about vaccines consumed between 10 and 19 minutes of an average office visit; another 8 percent said vaccine fears consumed 20 minutes or more – essentially the entirety of a well-child visit. No first-world parent should need a 20-minute pitch on not resurrecting polio and rubella – not in the 21st century.
Other states should follow the academy’s recommendation. Despite the sound and fury last year around childhood vaccinations, and a pending federal legal challenge, California’s implementation of SB 277 this year has been surprisingly drama-free. And doctors shouldn’t be afraid to insist that patients be vaccinated, barring some health issue. Waiting rooms are hardly immune to disease.