State’s vaccination law under fire

A vaccination in progress. (Photo: Komsan Loonprom)

At least three lawsuits have been filed seeking to overturn California’s new law that prevents children from attending public or private school or day care without getting mandatory vaccinations.

The law, SB 277, went into effect July 1, a day after Gov. Brown signed it. It removes the personal beliefs exemption, which previously allowed parents to skip vaccinations for their children because of religious or personal objections. Now, the only way to avoid vaccinations is to get a medical exemption from a doctor or to home school children.

“It’s not about choice, it’s about the safety of other children at school.” — Richard Pan

Passions are high now as its get closer to the first day of school and the reality sinks in that unvaccinated children will be denied admittance to class.  Advocates on both sides of the vaccination issue reported being harassed and persecuted for their views.

Andrea Sands, a Butte County parent and registered nurse who has declined to fully vaccinate her 5-year-old son, was reluctant at first to give her name because she fears harassment. The issue is so important to her that she has cut back her work hours so she can home school her son.

“We’re going to be discriminated against because of a medical choice we made,” said Sands, who has a master’s degree and teaches nursing students. “If they can now deny my son an education because he’s not fully vaccinated, what other legislation will that lead to and what other children will be denied an education because of medical choices they might make.”

Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, said the purpose of the law is to protect the health and safety of all California children. Families who choose not to vaccinate are endangering children who are not able to vaccinate for medical reasons such as those who have received an organ transplant, he said.

“It’s not about choice, it’s about the safety of other children at school,” said Pan, who is a medical doctor and received death threats over the law. He said the state is not denying unvaccinated children an education since they have the option of home school or independent study.

A court hearing is scheduled Aug. 12 in federal court in San Diego on one lawsuit’s request for an injunction to halt the law. The suit, filed by the nonprofit Education For All and several parents, contends that SB 277 conflicts with the state constitution’s guarantee of California children’s right to a public education.

Only two other states – Mississippi and West Virginia – do not allow parents to opt out of required vaccines for religious or personal beliefs.

“It’s crazy that they’re taking away a child’s education and saying that’s a good thing” said Rebecca Estepp, a spokesperson for Education for All.

Not everyone has the ability to home school their children – for example, situations in which both parents have to work or where the parents don’t speak English, Estepp said. California law requires that home schooling be done in English.

Estepp said the lawsuit is asking that the state go back to the previous law, Assembly Bill 2109, which required parents seeking personal belief exemptions to skip vaccines to consult with a doctor first.

But Pan said that law didn’t work and that too many parents chose not to vaccinate anyway, leaving more children at risk for catching and spreading preventable diseases. For the 2015-16 school year, the lowest kindergarten vaccination rates were in Trinity County, with only 77 percent getting all the required vaccinations. Other counties with low vaccination rates included Nevada County (77.1 percent) and Tuolumne County (77.7 percent) The highest vaccination rates included Alpine and Sierra counties (100 percent) and Colusa County (99.8 percent). According to public health experts, at least 92 percent of a population must be vaccinated to preserve “herd immunity,” needed to protect those who cannot be immunized like young children or those with weakened immune systems because of illnesses like leukemia.

Only two other states – Mississippi and West Virginia – do not allow parents to opt out of required vaccines for religious or personal beliefs.

Travis Middleton, who filed a lawsuit against SB277 in federal court in Los Angeles along with 25 other plaintiffs, contends that many ingredients in the vaccines are toxic, including aluminum hydroxide, aluminum phosphate and ammonium sulphate. “I want to put the vaccine ingredients on trial,” he said.  The suit says that proponents of the law violated the Racketeering Influenced and Corrupt Organizations Act.

“They don’t allow parents’ right to choose a medical procedure even though people are being harmed by it,” he said. “Let everybody know that the citizens are rising up to fight this draconian bill.”

Attorney T. Matthew Phillips filed his lawsuit against SB277 in Los Angeles Superior Court but the state has asked that it be addressed in federal court.

Middleton said no hearings are scheduled on the suit so far.

Jodi Hicks, who is a partner in a lobbying firm that helped support the law and is mentioned in the lawsuit, said the case is riddled with errors and will not go forward. She believes those opposing vaccinations are misguided. The state had to impose mandatory vaccinations because personal belief exemptions increased drastically between 2000 and 2012, she said.

“It’s not a case in which something changed with the vaccines,” she said. “It’s a change with the Internet and celebrities making statements.”

She explained that parents have become afraid of vaccinations by reading incorrect information on the Internet and by listening to celebrities who say that vaccines are unsafe.

SB277 was heavily vetted in the legislation process, she added. The courts have ruled in favor of mandatory vaccines in the past.

Attorney T. Matthew Phillips filed his lawsuit against SB277 in Los Angeles Superior Court but the state has asked that it be addressed in federal court. His case lists eight plaintiffs and opposes the law for several reasons, including that it violates the First Amendment, the California Constitution’s protection of the right to go to school and that it wrongly discriminates against children on the basis of vaccination status.

He hopes to get a ruling early this month on whether one of the plaintiffs – a 12-year-old girl who has never been vaccinated – can attend school. Her mother Tamara Buck, who lives in LA County, believes that vaccinations are risky and that natural immunity is the safest for everyone.

“I am a hard-core vaccine abolitionist,” Phillips said. “I hold the individual above the group. I think individual lives come first.”

SB277 has already prompted at least one parent to move to another state, which still allows personal belief exemptions to skip vaccines.

Jean Keese, who has two children ages 7 and 5, moved to Idaho from Placer County. “I didn’t want to live in a state that would discriminate and deny an education to my perfectly healthy child,” she said. “I didn’t want to live in a state that wouldn’t allow me as a parent to make medical decisions in partnership with my doctor. Parents, not politicians should make these decisions.”

Ed’s Note: For more information:
Education For All lawsuit
Matthew Phillips lawsuit:


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