Two bills threaten our freedom to make health care decisions. In California, Senate Bill 277 mandates that all children be fully vaccinated in order to attend public school, private school or day care. Unprecedented opposition has risen up against it as parents statewide stand up for their rights.
Now, a federal bill has just been submitted to match it: H.R. 2232 will require states to have mandatory vaccine laws for public school attendance in order to receive federal grant money for preventive health services. It’s essentially a financial threat by the federal government for all states to get their citizens in line.
As an Orange County pediatrician, I give vaccines in my office every day. I’ll be one of the first to acknowledge how important they are. But when we take a closer look at what these drastic changes really mean, wiser minds will realize they are bad choices for our state and our nation. These bills rob us of religious and personal freedom, remove parental control over their children’s medical treatments and unfairly target low-income and single-parent families.
If these bills were simply a declaration of whether vaccines are good or bad, I’d be voting yes, along with the rest of the Legislature. Yet they have nothing to do with whether vaccines are right or wrong.
In truth, they seek to establish fear and prejudice against a new subset of our population by wrongly answering the following questions: With some families raising their children without vaccines or choosing to partially vaccinate, can these children safely coexist with other children? Can all children safely congregate regardless of their medical, religious or personal beliefs? Is there really a subset of children who pose a danger to those around them?
I believe the answers are: yes, yes and a resounding no! Yet those who propose these bills selectively use scientific arguments to suggest that all children must be vaccinated for the good of all other children. Let’s take a wider look at all the science that proves mandatory vaccination is unnecessary and will do very little to reduce school-born diseases:
Measles. Only 18 percent of those caught up in the recent California outbreak were school age, and only a fraction caught the disease or passed it to others while in school. The outbreak would have occurred in much the same manner even if SB277 was in effect, and the minimal spread to the rest of the nation was quickly contained.
Whooping cough. According to the Centers for Disease Control website, under whooping cough FAQs, unvaccinated children are not responsible for the outbreaks; rather, waning immunity because the vaccine wears off quickly is the primary factor. Therefore, this disease will continue to occur in and out of schools regardless of any laws.
Flu. This past year’s flu vaccine was declared about 20 percent effective. Even in a good year, it’s about 50 percent effective, at best, among children. The flu will continue to occur in schools every year, with or without either of these bills.
There’s also a financial cost. Last year, 225,000 California schoolchildren opted out of one or more vaccines. For every such child forced into homeschooling under this bill, about $10,000 a year would be lost to a day-care, a public school or a private school. A parent must quit a job to stay home, losing income that would produce about $5,000 in state taxes and $20,000 in federal taxes. Do the math: That’s billions every year.
Single-parent and low-income families that have different medical or religious beliefs are unfairly targeted because homeschooling is not an option for them. And now the federal government is threatening to withhold health care grant money if states don’t pass such laws.
But forget the money. Lets just focus on the children. SB277 and H.R. 2232 ask us to choose between the rights of a couple handfuls of kids who caught measles in school this year and the rights that millions of children have to a free and equal public education. The plain and simple truth is that unvaccinated children do not pose a health risk to the community at large or to their classmates.
Families whose medical and religious beliefs lead them to decline some or all vaccines do not deserve to become outcasts in our society. We should all be able to coexist in peace and harmony.
Bob Sears is a pediatrician.