Editorial: We all have a stake in healthy vaccination rate The Sacramento Bee
March 21, 2012
In San Diego in 2008, a 7-year-old boy who had not been immunized
contracted measles on a trip to Switzerland and spread it to his
unvaccinated siblings and then his schoolmates.
Parents of many of those children had invoked a loosely written
California law that permitted them to decline to have their
children immunized based on their personal beliefs. As a result,
the public health authorities found that 11 additional people got
measles, including two infants.One had to be hospitalized.
California’s “personal belief” law must be tightened.
Assemblyman Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, is a pediatrician who
clearly understands the science behind vaccinations, and wisdom
of communicating facts to parents.
He has introduced Assembly Bill 2109, a straightforward measure
that would require physicians or other qualified health care
specialists to inform parents of the benefits and risks of
vaccines, and to sign forms attesting that they’ve imparted the
information. Parents who still balk at having their child
immunized would need to sign forms stating that they’ve been told
of the rewards and risks.
Parents who fear vaccines are trying to do what they think is
right. Many have read scare stories and accepted as truth false
information from questionable sources. Pan said that among the
most difficult fears to confront is that of autism.
There is no link between vaccinations and autism, but fears
persist. As the state Department of Public Health points out, the
American Medical Association, American Academy of Pediatrics, the
Institute of Medicine and World Health Organization all agree
that there is no connection between vaccines and autism.
Of course, vaccines have risk. But the benefits are not readily
apparent because vaccines have been so successful. Polio is a
rarity, thanks to vaccines. Measles is far less common that it
was 45 years ago.
Health authorities blame the 2010 pertussis epidemic in which 10
California babies died in part on under-immunization. The state
has since expanded the vaccination requirement. In 2011, there
were no recorded deaths attributed to pertussis, also known as
whooping cough, something that had not happened since 1991.
As it is, about 2 percent of parents opt out of having their
children vaccinated. The number is rising, and is much higher at
Health authorities become alarmed when vaccination rates fall
below 85 to 90 percent. That puts all people at risk,
particularly those individuals who for medical reasons cannot be
Of all 58 California counties, Nevada County had the highest rate
of parents of entering kindergartners claiming a personal belief
exemption in 2010, says the state Department of Public Health.
More than 17 percent of entering kindergartners in 2010 had not
In Sacramento County, 3.2 percent of entering kindergartners
arrived without vaccinations in 2010 because of the parents’
beliefs. In 2010, eight Sacramento County schools had opt-out
rates of 20 percent or greater, all of them private or charter.
California health officials have shown an ability to carry out
effective public health campaigns. Smoking is the best example.
Tobacco use has fallen dramatically since California embarked on
its anti-smoking effort. The whooping cough campaign is another
example. By speaking directly and honestly to parents, physicians
can have huge impact.
Pan’s measure is intended to provide accurate information, and
ensure that parents realize that they place their child and other
parents’ children at risk by failing to get their children
immunized. Pan’s bill deserves bipartisan support and rapid
The Bee’s past stands
An important issue is that California has a very loose “personal
belief exemption,” an opt-out for parents that need not be based
on religion or medical necessity. Legislators ought to revisit
that law. … The bottom line: Kids need to get their vaccinations
to protect us all.