Laws in all states generally require kids to be vaccinated against various childhood diseases before they may attend school. (And, of course, school attendance itself is legally required.) But most of those laws have exceptions to accommodate parents' religious and philosophical objections. (And the laws don't require kids to be vaccinated when their medical conditions genuinely make vaccination hazardous.) In light of parental objection exemptions, vaccination rates have been dipping recently.
Enter California, which recently enacted SB277. With its enactment, California becomes the third state, along with Mississippi and West Virginia, not to recognize any parental objection based on personal beliefs. Only medical exemptions remain.
Profs Michelle Mellow, David Studdert, and Wendy Parmet have written this piece on the California legislation for the New England Journal of Medicine. And Clifton Parker has reviewed the NEJM piece, focusing on whether the California legislation will spur other states to get rid of personal-belief exemptions. He notes the NEJM authors' views on why the legislative effort in California succeeded:
• Supporters in the California Legislature did not bow to considerable pressure to abandon the measure.
• The state health department publicized data showing that rates of personal-belief exemptions in California have doubled since 2007, and analysts noted that vaccination coverage is low enough to jeopardize "herd immunity" in about 25 percent of California's schools. Such immunity occurs when enough people have been vaccinated that their collective immunity provides a measure of protection for those who are not immune.
• Research showed that a lack of vaccination compliance was most likely to blame for the 2015 measles outbreak in Disneyland. That incident created a political opportunity to advance the vaccination cause, the professors wrote.
• Finally, the bill's proponents "focused on the specific threat to schoolchildren who are too medically fragile to receive vaccinations, effectively framing vaccine refusal as a decision that endangers others rather than a purely personal one."