California to Challenge Vaccine Exemptions
As the amount of measles cases in California continues to rise (up to 107 to be exact), so has the backlash against the growing movement of parents preferring not to vaccinate their children, choosing instead to utilize state-sanctioned personal and religious vaccine exemptions with relative ease.
The recent outbreak has ignited fierce debates over a variety of points, though most have revolved around these clustered anti-vaccine communities fueling the spread of this very preventable disease. Reaction against the groups has been widespread and generally merciless, earning the attention of top political figures and even forcing those expressing mild sympathy for the movement to immediately backtrack on their statements amidst vitriolic public pressure.
Criticism is certainly nothing new for the “anti-vaxxers” – increasingly in the past year- but what could previously be classified as general bafflement has now transformed into universal anger, manifested this past week with the enraged scrutiny over not just why parents seek vaccine exemptions, but how simple it is to get vaccine exemptions.
As many news outlets have pointed out, non-medical vaccine exemptions are available in 48 states (Mississippi and West Virginia being the two exceptions), and are often given after completing a task as simple as filling out a form. Given the consequences of these exemptions, their convenience raises many concerns.
In asking for a religious exemption for example, states will rarely even ask for a religious affiliation (a perhaps fitting route in that almost no religions actually prohibit vaccinations). Personal belief exemptions too, require only a minor amount of effort – mainly a brief educational session with a doctor. Thus, as a recent Slate article stated “So far, we don’t have a sure answer for how to convince parents to choose vaccines. But that’s not to say we don’t know how to increase vaccination rates. We do, and it’s through force. The two states with the highest vaccination rates are West Virginia and Mississippi, and they achieve this with strong public health programs and mandatory vaccination laws with strict standards for exemptions.”
The medical community has warned the public for years about the dangers of falling vaccination rates, and as their predictions threaten to become a nightmarish reality, two California lawmakers have announced that they will propose a bill to eliminate the state’s personal belief vaccine exemption. ‘Parents are letting us know our current laws are insufficient,’ said Richard Pan, pediatrician and co-author of the upcoming bill. According to Politico, “In 2012, Pan authored a measure that would require parents pursuing exemptions to consult medical professionals. He claims that the number of parents opting out of vaccinating their children has fallen by one-fifth since that bill went into effect.”
California’s religious exemption will likely remain available, but clearly, patience for parents willing to exploit a weak system placing countless children at risk has reached a new low. With this sustained pressure, California, and perhaps the nation, may no longer need to wait for this problem to get worse before it gets better.