Anti-vaccine advocates flexing muscle

State Sen. Richard Pan, center, at a Sept. 13 discussion of children's health care issues. (Photo: Scott Duncan, Capitol Weekly)

The anti-vaccine movement is alive and well in California.

Despite legal requirements for vaccination and a preponderance of clinical evidence showing that vaccines are effective in protecting children from measles, mumps and rubella, among other diseases, there are pockets of resistance across the state, according to state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento.

Sen. Pan’s legislation makes California among the most stringent vaccine-mandate state in the country.

And oddly enough, at least some, if not most, of the pockets are located in the more affluent, well-educated areas of the state – places such as Marin and Santa Monica, says Pan, the Legislature’s leading vaccine proponent.

Pan is a Sacramento-area pediatrician-turned-legislator who authored SB 277, the 2015 law that eliminated parents’ ability to use “personal belief” as a way to avoid vaccinations for their children.

As it moved through the Legislature, hundreds of individuals and numerous organizations — including the California Chiropractic Association and California Nurses for Ethical Standards — opposed the measure, according to a Senate analysis. Supporters included the California Medical Association, the California Hospital Association and the Academy of Family Physicians, among dozens of other groups.

Now, exemptions may be granted only on the basis of medical necessity. Children must have evidence of vaccination, or the medical exemption, to attend a public school.

Pan’s legislation makes California among the most stringent vaccine-mandated state in the country.

Pan was interviewed after participating in Capitol Weekly’s recent Children’s Health Conference in Sacramento.

Do the pockets of vaccine-resistant parents really pose a health threat to the rest of the state?

“It’s possible,” Pan says. “It’s confined to pockets, but because we live in such a mobile society, a carrier leaving a pocket can spread infection to new pockets. The solution is to shrink the pockets.”

“The scientific evidence shows that the vaccination status of a child is not a significant risk to immuno-compromised schoolchildren.” — Dr. Shira Miller

Ryan Spencer, a senior vice president at the Mercury political consulting firm, which represents a number of medical groups, agreed.

“There would still be the risk of an outbreak anytime we have those risks,’” he said.

The vulnerable include students who can’t be vaccinated because of medical conditions, such as impaired immune systems, or whose vaccinations for various reasons don’t protect them from infection.

Spencer said the anti-vaccine movement appears stronger in affluent areas. “It’s because they haven’t been exposed to much illness,” he says. “It’s not like Darfur, where you see disaster up close.”

But some remain skeptical about the need for vaccinations in certain cases and wonder whether parents are being pressured to vaccinate their children.

“The scientific evidence shows that the vaccination status of a child is not a significant risk to immuno-compromised schoolchildren. Therefore, it is both unscientific and unethical to use coercive measures to increase vaccination rates,”  Dr. Shira Miller, founder and president of the Physicians for Informed Consent said in a July 2 written statement.

Miller said Physicians for Informed Consent is “not ideologically pro-vaccine or anti-vaccine, but rather is pro-health, pro-ethics and pro-informed consent in vaccination (like any other medical procedure),” according to the group’s website.

Some groups have put together lists of physicians and chiropractors who may be contacted by parents seeking medical exemptions from vaccinations. One such list contains names and addresses of 46 California physicians and chiropractors.

“They are sincere in their beliefs, and I’m sure they want the best for their children,” Spencer told Capitol Weekly. “They believe what they’re doing is the right thing.”

Editor’s Note: Corrects 16th graf by deleting Miller quote linking vaccination and death, adds opposition and support of legislation, 5th graf; recasts 15th-17th grafs to delete reference to PIC as “anti-vaccine.”  


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