California health officials on Friday declared an end to the measles outbreak that started at Disneyland in December. But the fevered debate triggered by the outbreak, which left 131 people in California sick, continues.
This was demonstrated last week when hundreds of parents and others showed up at the state Capitol to voice their opinion about legislation that would repeal the personal-belief exemption allowing parents to opt out of vaccinating their children against contagious diseases like measles.
Ultimately, the anti-vaccination folks won the day, managing to delay a vote in the Senate Education Committee. But legislative supporters vowed to fix problems identified in the bill and try again. We hope so. A vocal minority of parents shouldn’t be allowed to shout down a bill that addresses a serious health care need in California schools — one that appears to be growing more severe each year.
The rancor surrounding this issue has reached absurd extremes. Robert Kennedy Jr. fanned the flames earlier this month during an event in Sacramento by referring to the number of children harmed by vaccines as a “holocaust.” Meanwhile opponents have come to refer to the author of the bill as Adolf Hitler. The hostility has reached the point that state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, the author of the bill, SB 277, is now receiving extra security because of threats. It’s absurd.
This is an issue that should be based on good science not unbridled emotion and voodoo facts. So far the latter have been allowed to dominate this debate.
At its core is the troubling reality that the declining “herd immunity” of the general public is creating an opportunity for diseases such as measles to make a comeback. Officials believe the outbreak at Disneyland occurred when someone who caught the virus overseas visited the theme park and spread it to individuals, most of whom had not been vaccinated. Many of the victims said they made a personal choice to refuse getting inoculated. Others were children too young to get the measles-mumps-rubella vaccine.
In more than 25 percent of California schools, the measles immunization rate for kindergartners is below the 92 percent threshold that doctors say is critical to protect public health.
In Sonoma and Marin counties, the rates of parents being allowed to use the personal exemption is three times what it is for the rest of the state. In some west county schools, less than half the students are immunized. In one Sebastopol grade school, just one in four is.
According to the New York Times, Pan testified during the Education Committee hearing that California is “clearly at a point where our community immunity is dropping too low,” he said. To believe otherwise, he said, is a “luxury.”
It’s not a luxury that the state can afford. It’s certainly not one that children who are going through chemotherapy or who otherwise aren’t able to be vaccinated can afford.
Pan’s bill allows exemptions for children who have such a medical condition. But it would eliminate the exemption for those on religious or personal beliefs.
Parents who object still have a personal choice. They can opt to school their children at home or find a private school that accepts children who have not been immunized. Their choice to put other children in public schools at risk should not be sanctioned by the state.