A new study has confirmed what Californians know already – that the Disneyland measles outbreak was fueled by foolishly low immunization rates.
The report Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found the areas where the disease spread were far short of the 95 percent vaccination threshold needed to prevent infections from traveling. Rates were as low as 50 percent by some calculations, and even in the best-case modeling, they were a good 10 percentage points shy of where they should be.
The clear takeaway is that California’s gapingly lax vaccine exemption laws need to be tightened. That should be a slam-dunk case for Senate Bill 277, which would repeal the state’s broad “personal belief” exemption and allow only medically based opt-outs to school vaccination mandates.
But as the measles contagion recedes, the bill, carried by Democratic Sens. Richard Pan of Sacramento and Ben Allen of Santa Monica, already is facing hurdles. And that should be a wake-up call for the state’s pro-vaccination majority.
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Procedurally, for instance, legislative leaders have scheduled SB 277 to run through not one, not two, but three Senate committees. That gives its opponents, who range from the chiropractic lobby to high-profile Hollywood anti-vaxxers, multiple shots at killing or crippling it before it ever reaches the Senate floor.
Granted, some of those committee chairs are co-authors. Raising vaccination rates is a stated priority of legislative leaders. And maximizing discussion of the bill’s impact – educational, health and judicial – will spotlight the issue and inform the public. One argument, for example, holds that removing the personal-belief exemption could impact religious exemptions, which in turn could raise First Amendment questions. But historically, triple-referring a bill is a good way to ensure its doom.
Then there’s the opposition, which is already mustering. This week, celebrity vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told The Sacramento Bee’s Laurel Rosenhall that he’s trying to screen an anti-vax movie for state lawmakers before they vote.
“Trace Amounts” is a crank-a-palooza of misinformation, flogging the discredited claim that vaccines cause autism. But it debuted at L.A.’s Chinese Theatre and got raves from Hollywood’s anti-vax crowd.
Pan, a pediatrician, says he would be delighted to refute such a barrage of baloney. But Kennedy credits the “documentary” with helping derail efforts in other states to require more vaccinations. The anti-vax crowd might be passionate and vocal and sincerely afraid, but they’re a misguided minority.
It was measles this time, but what if Patient Zero had been carrying pertussis or worse, polio? It doesn’t just create red spots and high fevers, polio disables its victims.
Don’t the rest of us have a right not to be threatened by a preventable disease?