On May 14, the California State Senate passed a bill (Senate Bill No. 277, or just SB 277 for short) that rescinds parents’ abilities to exempt their children from vaccinations on the grounds of personal or religious beliefs. Day care centers, nurseries, and schools—public and private—are no longer permitted to admit children who cannot show proof of being fully vaccinated. The only way to be exempted from a vaccination now is to have a legitimate medical excuse.
In light of the recent measles outbreak (which started in November 2014 and was not declared over until mid-April of this year), SB 277 seems a necessary measure. The bill mandates immunization for highly contagious childhood diseases including diphtheria, hepatitis B, measles, mumps, pertussis (also known as whooping cough), polio, rubella, tetanus, chickenpox, and haemophilus influenzae type b.
All of this seems well and good—after all, it is thanks to vaccinations that the world has managed to eradicate smallpox—but then you look at the eleventh point on the list of vaccines that the bill will make mandatory.
“(11) Any other disease deemed appropriate by the department, taking into consideration the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the United States Department of Health and Human Services, the American Academy of Pediatrics, and the American Academy of Family Physicians,” it says.
…Any other disease?
How easy would it be to add on to that list?
I can remember visiting the doctor’s office several years ago, fidgeting with my paper gown while the adults discussed some sort of new vaccine for human papillomavirus over my head. This vaccine, it was said, could possibly also lower my risk for developing cervical cancer. (Ten-year-old me did not know what a cervix was.) My parents were given the option to choose whether or not I would be vaccinated for this sexually transmitted disease—and, given that I was a fifth grader who was highly unlikely to come into sexual contact with anyone, they chose to opt out.
Personally, I think it’s a little bit ridiculous that vaccinations for STDs are recommended for elementary school-age children. But at least when I was at that age (which wasn’t too long ago, honestly. This was back in 2010), my parents at least had a say in the matter. Since then, I’ve looked up the vaccine, and am glad that they made this decision: the vaccine comes with all sorts of unpleasant (not to mention potentially dangerous) side effects, including insomnia, nausea, severe stomach pain, and even seizures.
SB 277, while beneficial in its efforts to prevent the spread of certain diseases amongst school-age children, may open the floodgates for all sorts of new vaccinations to be made mandatory. And the worst part is that voters have no say in which other vaccinations are made mandatory, nor do they have a say in whether or not their children receive these new vaccinations.
SB 277 still has yet to pass through the Assembly. But if it does, how many new vaccines will make the required list? Will all of them be truly necessary to uphold the health and wellness of the public? How many shots will children need to receive each year, regardless of whether or not their parents give their consent?
The bill was born out of a need to protect the public from infectious diseases, but for all its good intentions, it seems to create more questions than answers.