Vaccinations going viral: proposed CA bill aims to eliminate “personal belief exemption”

In a move that would effectively enforce mandatory vaccinations for all students attending public schools, two California State Senators recently introduced a bill aimed at eliminating the state’s “personal belief exemption” for vaccinations.

Currently, California’s personal belief exemption allows parents to cite religious and philosophical beliefs in addition to medical necessity as reasons not to vaccinate, effectively allowing parents to choose whether or not they want to vaccinate their children. The proposed legislation will eliminate this exemption.

The trend of parents choosing to exercise their personal belief exemption has been growing not only in California, but across the country. These “anti-vaxxers” have been able to exploit the loophole in the personal belief exemption, which was originally intended for solely religious exceptions, by claiming they are philosophically opposed to vaccination. Although these parents must receive counseling and a sign-off from a medical professional, they can fulfill both of these requirements by going to licensed doctors practicing “alternative medicine”, who themselves are often opposed to vaccinations. However, a recent outbreak of measles in Southern California has prompted lawmakers to try and eliminate the exemption altogether.

When a person receives a vaccination, a small amount of the inactive form of a dead or weakened virus is injected into the body. The immune system then produces antibodies to protect against this virus, although the inactive virus poses no threat to the body. This ensures that if a potentially harmful virus infects this person, there are already millions of antibodies present that can immediately work to protect the individual. If one is vaccinated against diseases such as polio or the flu, they are insuring that they have the best chance of fighting off these diseases without dying, being severely affected, or spreading them to others.

Vaccines allowed us to eradicate smallpox worldwide, and to eliminate polio in all but a few countries. Parents who choose to not vaccinate their children are running the risk of allowing deadly diseases such as these to infiltrate modern societies, which could easily be preventable with a few simple shots.

Parents need to be aware of the true impact of their actions, and of the illegitimacy of their arguments. Many cite a study done by Andrew Wakefield, a British doctor who in 1998 published a paper linking vaccines to autism. However, Wakefield was later found to have “misrepresented or altered the medical histories of all 12 of the patients whose cases formed the basis of the 1998 study” according to an investigation done by the British medical journal BMJ. In reality, no link has been found between vaccines and autism. But despite the literally hundreds of studies performed that disprove Wakefield’s falsified work, parents continue to cite his studies as proof for why vaccinating their children is dangerous.

Another factor that has encouraged this fad is the presence of anti-vaccine advocates in popular media. Actress and writer Jenny McCarthy became one of these advocates when her son was diagnosed with autism in 2005. McCarthy appeared on various talk shows claiming that her son’s autism was a result of vaccines, and after a series of natural therapies, she was able to “cure” his autism. The danger of McCarthy’s stand against vaccines lies not only in her large platform, but also in her ability to appeal to an inherent naturalness bias that many people posses. McCarthy’s assertions led many to believe that vaccinations are unsafe because they alter natural childhood development, although there is no scientific backing for this.

So, why is it essential that everyone in a population is vaccinated? The answer lies in the theory of “herd immunity.” Herd immunity postulates that if 95% of a population is vaccinated against a certain disease, it will be unable to spread or infect members of that population – including the remaining 5% of people who are not vaccinated. This 95% threshold is critical for the health of people who cannot be vaccinated because of legitimate medical reasons.

However, this recent fad of not vaccinating has led to areas with very low vaccination rates. According to NPR, in the Santa Monica-Malibu school district, 1 out of every 10 students has been granted an exemption and is not vaccinated. Some Southern California schools have vaccination rates lower than 50%, according to BBC Mundo; 50% is nowhere near the 95% required to keep a population safe and insulated from diseases.

This isn’t to say that every single person should be vaccinated. Some individuals can have extreme allergic reactions to vaccines, while others with immune deficiencies risk becoming severely ill or even dying. However, parents who do not vaccinate their children are, quite simply, uninformed: they do not realize that their poor decisions will create major consequences for their children and for society as a whole. It is vital that every person who can be vaccinated is, to protect both themselves and those around them who cannot be vaccinated. And this bill at the state level is a good start, it is essential that legislation is passed on the federal level to mandate vaccinations across the country.