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SYFY WIRE Bad Astronomy

California May Make It Harder to Opt Out of Getting Vaccinated. I’m OK With

By Phil Plait

Update, June 30, 2015: SB-277 is now a law. YES.

California may be about to pass a law that only allows parents to opt their public school–attending children out of vaccines for medical reasons. Personal or religious objections will no longer be accepted.

This bill, SB-277, has been approved by the state Assembly, and is going to the desk of Gov. Jerry Brown to be signed or vetoed. It’s hard to say what he will do, as he can be unpredictable.

I’m writing this to urge him to sign it. I support this bill.

While this issue can be subtle, when all is said and done, I support mandatory vaccines for public school children. I’ve been pretty clear about it:

If you want to rely on the public trust then you have an obligation to the public trust as well, and part of that obligation is not sending your child to a place with other children if they aren’t immunized against preventable, communicable diseases.

Some people want to claim religious exemption from getting vaccinations, but I don’t find this argument compelling:”

I do understand that people might have a religious belief against vaccinations. However, I think religious exemptions can and should only go so far. Certainly they stop dead when religion impinges on  my rights to have my child attend a school that is safe. 

By the by, there are very few religions that preach against vaccination (one exception: the Dutch Reformed Church, and there was a major measles outbreak in one of their communities in the Netherlands in 2013). The idea of a religious exemption is, to me, something of a non-issue. But, in the end, I don’t think there should be a religious exemption, either.

Certainly there should be some medical exemptions; some children are allergic to some of the ingredients in vaccines, for example. But these too are relatively rare.

When it comes to refusing vaccines, the largest group is obviously composed of people who think vaccines are somehow harmful, or that mandatory vaccination is taking away their rights.

For those opposing it because they think vaccines are unsafe, well, they’re just wrong. There’s no delicate way to put that, no cushioning it. The claims of health concerns from anti-vaxxers are long, but completely unfounded. Vaccines don’t cause autism. Andrew Wakefield, whose research is the very basis of the modern anti-vax movement, has been called a fraud, has been shown to be guilty of scientific misconduct, shown to have had a massive conflict of interest in his study, shown to have acted unethically, and simply shown to have been wrong. I mean, sheesh.

Vaccines don’t have toxins in them at anywhere near the levels needed to cause problems (as doctors say, dose makes the toxin). Vaccines are effective, their benefits vastly outweigh any small risk, and they are a medical triumph.

For those opposing the bill because they are concerned about parental rights, that’s understandable, but limiting parents’ rights is in some cases justified, especially for the child’s health or for the public welfare. In fact, your rights already are limited. As one obvious example, you can’t drive your child around in a car without them in a safety seat if they’re young, or without wearing a seat belt for older kids. Heck, the state has the right to take your child away from you if you are obviously endangering, neglecting, or abusing them … a sad necessity, but a necessity all the same.

If you don’t vaccinate your child, and there is not a medical reason for it, then you are needlessly endangering your child. It’s really that simple.

And it’s worse even than that. You’re also endangering every child who goes to school with your child.

There are a lot of horrid diseases with devastating health effects that we can stop dead in their tracks with vaccinations. Yet we see outbreaks of them all the time in America, and in many cases it’s because people aren’t vaccinating.

This recent bill in California was spurred by the outbreak of measles that occurred at Disneyland in early 2015. But the need for it is far more broad than that.

Gov. Brown: Please sign that bill into law. You could be saving a lot of children's lives.

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