Last December, the Disneyland measles outbreak began. It quickly spread for months until it was finally contained. Most of the people sickened by measles were, of course, Californians. This triggered a national debate about vaccinations. Many of the people infected during the outbreak had either refused vaccinations based on personal beliefs or were too young to have been vaccinated. Because the vast majority of a population needs to be vaccinated in order to prevent the spread of diseases like measles, this raised the question of whether or not people should be allowed to refuse vaccinations based solely on their own personal beliefs.
Apparently, the California legislature and Gov. Jerry Brown do not believe in a parent’s right to not vaccinate his or her children based only on personal beliefs. The bill signed by the governor on June 30 demands all children who are not vaccinated, based only on the personal beliefs of the parents, must be homeschooled. The new law will become effective for the 2016-2017 school year. This law applies to kids in public and private schools. It also applies to daycare centers.
Gov. Brown wrote this statement explaining his decision to sign the bill:
The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases. While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.
This column has included several articles about the Disneyland measles outbreak and the science surrounding it. There are pros and cons to vaccination.
In a pro-vaccine article entitled “Measles outbreak: Cases climb in California,” herd protection was discussed. I had written the following explanation for why the measles outbreak was as bad as it was:
The reason this disease is spreading so rapidly is because herd immunity has been compromised. Everyone who is unable to be vaccinated for medical reasons should have been protected by the larger herd. But because large numbers of people are refusing vaccinations based on personal beliefs, this has significantly compromised the herd.
In “Disneyland measles outbreak: Could the anti-vaccination movement be right?,” I put forth the idea that there might be more to the anti-vaccine movement than meets the eye. I interviewed a 67 year old man who claimed to have contracted diphtheria when he was a young child. He blamed it on a vaccine he received. Upon further exploration, I found that there had been a deadly diphtheria outbreak in 1949 Medford, Oregon, and it was the result of injecting children with faulty vaccines.
The debate surrounding vaccines is incredibly personal, because children are always a personal matter to their parents. There are parents who fear an outbreak and aren’t comfortable sending their kids to school with too many unvaccinated children (sometimes vaccines fail). On the other hand, there are parents who believe vaccines could harm their kids more than the diseases they might catch. However, science has shown that the best way to prevent future outbreaks of preventable, childhood illnesses that could result in disability and death is through vaccinations.