What others say: Society has right to safeguard itself

  • Wednesday, June 3, 2015 8:56pm
  • Opinion

The vaccination debate has reached fever pitch. Legislation has passed in the state Senate that would do away with the “personal belief exemption” that allows parents in California to refuse to vaccinate their children. As it moves to the Assembly, opponents are ratcheting up their rhetoric, calling the bill a huge intrusion on their rights, and one that is written so broadly that even children with conditions that make vaccinations dangerous for them wouldn’t be entitled to exemptions.

The noise surrounding SB 277 is drowning out the truth, which is this: In general, parents have a right to make medical decisions for their children. But when it comes to communicable diseases, which can have devastating consequences on large groups of people, there also is a general societal right to protect public health.

That doesn’t necessarily mean vaccinating all children — but it does mean vaccinating enough of them to achieve so-called herd immunity, the level at which even children who are too medically fragile for vaccination, or whose bodies don’t respond to vaccination, are protected by the health of others. To achieve that, 90 percent to 95 percent of the school-age population must be vaccinated. In many areas of the state — Santa Monica is one example — the rates have fallen far below that level, at least partly because of parents’ fears that the vaccines will harm children, though many studies have found them to be generally safe and effective.

For all the outrage, SB 277 is a moderate measure — possibly too moderate. Medical exemptions would still be granted if parents obtain a doctor’s note saying that their child has a medical condition that makes vaccination unsafe, and naming the condition. The bill would not dictate which medical conditions are acceptable.

Many doctors won’t write such a note unless it’s warranted, but the state can expect a handful of physicians to make a cottage industry out of giving parents what they want. Only parents with strong objections to vaccination are likely to seek out such doctors, though; others will go ahead and vaccinate, which might be enough to bring vaccination rates to protective levels.

Nor are schools required under the bill to automatically reject students who aren’t fully vaccinated — though they must work with parents to get the immunizations completed. Children currently in elementary school would have until seventh grade to be completely immunized; students currently in higher grades would be allowed to complete their schooling without vaccination.

Californians shouldn’t let the rhetoric cloud the long-term goal: a population with strong protection from diseases that were once scourges. Society’s right to safeguard its health, especially that of its vulnerable children, trumps individual belief.

— Los Angeles Times, May 29

More in Opinion

A roll of “I voted” stickers sit at the Alaska Division of Elections office in Juneau in 2022. (Ben Hohenstatt / Juneau Empire File)
Strengthening democracy: Native vote partners to boost voter registration

GOTNV and VPC are partnering to send over 4,000 voter registration applications this month to addresses and P.O. boxes all over Alaska

Hiroko Masuike/The New York Times
Former President Donald Trump arrives at Trump Tower after he was found guilty of all counts in his criminal trial in New York on May 30.
Opinion: Trump’s new fixers

Fixers from Alaska and elsewhere step in after guilty verdict

Ballot booths are set up inside Kenai City Hall on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2022, in Kenai, Alaska. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Perspective from an election worker

Here is what I know about our Kenai Peninsula Borough election system

Apayauq Reitan, the first transgender woman to participate in the Iditarod, tells the House Education Committee on March 30, 2023, why she opposes a bill restricting transgender rights. (Mark Sabbatini/Juneau Empire file photo)
Opinion: The imaginary transgender sports crisis

House Bill 183 is a right-wing solution to a problem that doesn’t exist now and never will.

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024. (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Session ends with budget, dividend and bills passed

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

The Alaska State Capitol. (Clarise Larson / Juneau Empire file photo)
Listen to PAs; support Senate Bill 115: Modernizing PA Practice in Alaska

Health care is rapidly evolving, demanding a more flexible and responsive system

Mount Redoubt can be seen across Cook Inlet from North Kenai Beach on Thursday, July 2, 2022. (Erin Thompson/Peninsula Clarion file photo)
Opinion: Hilcorp Alaska: Powering Southcentral Alaska — past, present and future

Hilcorp Alaska has and will continue to fully develop our Cook Inlet basin leasehold

Sen. Jesse Bjorkman, a Nikiski Republican, speaks in favor of overriding a veto of Senate Bill 140 during floor debate of a joint session of the Alaska State Legislature on Monday, March 18, 2024 (Mark Sabbatini / Juneau Empire)
Sen. Jesse Bjorkman: Collegiality matters

Capitol Corner: Legislators report back from Juneau

Juneau Empire file photo
Larry Persily.
Opinion: Alaska might as well embrace the past

The governor, legislators, municipal officials and business leaders are worried that the Railbelt will run short of natural gas before the end of the decade

The Alaska State Capitol on March 1. (Ashlyn O’Hara/Peninsula Clarion)
Opinion: Physicians oppose Alaska Senate Bill 115 — Independent Practice for PAs

Alaskans don’t want access to just any health care, they want access to high quality care

Norm McDonald is the deputy director of Fire Protection for the Alaska Division of Forestry & Fire Protection. (Photo courtesy Bureau of Land Management Alaska Fire Service)
The Swan Lake Fire can be seen from above on Monday, Aug. 26, 2019, on the Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. (Photo courtesy Alaska Wildland Fire Information)
Opinion: This wildfire prevention month, reflect on ways to protect each other and our communities from wildfire

Alaskans saw what happened in Canada last year, and they know it can happen here too