Anti-vac­cine moms’ new ally

Los Angeles Times - - CALIFORNIA - ROBIN AB­CAR­IAN robin.ab­car­ian@la­times.com

The ACLU says vac­ci­na­tion bill may vi­o­late state Con­sti­tu­tion, writes Robin Ab­car­ian.

SACRA­MENTO — The anti-vac­cine moms be­gan lining up in the hall out­side the state Se­nate hear­ing room at 7 a.m. on Wed­nes­day, two hours be­fore the doors opened. Some had ba­bies strapped to their chests, oth­ers sat on the floor with small chil­dren.

They had ar­rived from Oak­land, from Santa Cruz and from Sonoma. They were protest vet­er­ans now, hav­ing trekked to the Capitol two, three, four other times to raise their voices against a law that would bar most un­vac­ci­nated chil­dren from class­rooms. Most wore red.

“I’m so emo­tional about the pos­si­bil­ity that this is over and I can fi­nally rest,” one said.

“My daugh­ter asked, ‘Mommy, are you go­ing to fight the Evil Em­pire again to­day?’ ” said an­other.

“I was go­ing to post on Face­book, ‘Whose sex life is gone?’ ” joked a third.

The moms laughed, know­ingly.

“If they kill the bill, we have clo­sure,” said Oak­land chi­ro­prac­tor Eileen Karpfin­ger, a mother of four. “If not we keep go­ing.”

There was no clo­sure for the anti-vac­cine moms, who cling to the be­lief, de­spite all science to the con­trary, that vac­cines can cause autism, di­a­betes, rheuma­toid arthri­tis, seizure dis­or­ders, be­hav­ior dis­or­ders, food al­ler­gies, tics, sud­den in­fant death syn­drome and can­cer.

The bill they came to de­feat would end “per­sonal be­lief ex­emp­tions” and re­quire al­most all Cal­i­for­nia chil­dren at­tend­ing public or pri­vate school to be im­mu­nized. Chil­dren with le­git­i­mate med­i­cal rea­sons, such as com­pro­mised im­mune sys­tems due to chemo­ther­apy, are ex­cused. So are home-schooled chil­dren.

Af­ter the bill was amended to in­clude mul­ti­ple­fam­ily home schools and public school in­de­pen­dent study pro­grams in the def­i­ni­tion of home-school­ing, it passed eas­ily out of com­mit­tee.

The moms, who were wary of me but will­ing to make their case, will be back at the Capitol next week when the law is taken up by the Se­nate Ju­di­ciary Com­mit­tee.

This time, they will have an un­ex­pected ally: the ACLU.

::

Ear­lier this month, an at­tor­ney for the ven­er­a­ble civil rights group wrote a let­ter to the bill’s two Demo­cratic au­thors, Richard Pan of Sacra­mento and Ben Allen of Santa Mon­ica, rais­ing alarms about the bill’s con­sti­tu­tion­al­ity.

Un­der the Cal­i­for­nia Con­sti­tu­tion, wrote Kevin G. Baker, leg­isla­tive direc­tor of the ACLU of Cal­i­for­nia’s Cen­ter for Ad­vo­cacy and Pol­icy, chil­dren have the right to a public ed­u­ca­tion.

The ACLU does not take is­sue with the wis­dom of vac­ci­nat­ing chil­dren against the full range of child­hood dis­eases, nor with the fact that se­ri­ous public health risks can oc­cur when vac­ci­na­tion rates fall be­low what is re­quired for herd im­mu­nity. But, Baker wrote, the bill does not ex­plain why the state has a “com­pelling in­ter­est” in re­quir­ing that all stu­dents in ev­ery school be vac­ci­nated.

This, of course, dove­tails neatly with the anti-vac­cine camp’s over­heated ac­cu­sa­tions that the bill will cre­ate a “po­lice state.” “If SB 277 be­comes law,” anti-vac­cine ac­tivist Laura Hayes said at an April 8 rally at the Capitol, “po­lice will be re­quired to forcibly take our chil­dren, against our will, to be force­vac­ci­nated.”

This is not ex­actly what the ACLU is sug­gest­ing.

“Be­cause of the im­por­tant, fun­da­men­tal right to ed­u­ca­tion, we think that there just needs to be some very thought­ful con­sid­er­a­tion given to how to solve this prob­lem,” Baker said. “We’re not solv­ing it with this broad brush ap­proach that keeps kids out of school.”

In his let­ter, Baker sug­gested that a 16-month-old state law, AB 2109, should be given more of a chance to work be­fore tak­ing such a dras­tic step. That leg­is­la­tion re­quires health pro­fes­sion­als to dis­cuss the benefits and risks of im­mu­niza­tion with par­ents be­fore they are al­lowed to file be­lief ex­emp­tions, and it has al­ready led to an in­crease in vac­ci­na­tion rates.

Also, Baker said, some­times schools ap­pear to have lower vac­ci­na­tion rates be­cause they are lax about data-keep­ing and re­port­ing, or be­cause they lack staff. “Maybe we should put some teeth in this obli­ga­tion to re­port to see if we re­ally have a prob­lem, and if so, where it is.”

Law­mak­ers have not re­sponded. “I was hop­ing for more of a dia­logue,” Baker said, “but they think they’ve got the moral high ground here and they in­tend to just push this through.”

::

On Tues­day, Dr. Richard Pan was be­hind the wheel of his Lexus SUV, bar­rel­ing back to the Capitol from a news con­fer­ence where he had just in­tro­duced el­derly sur­vivors of po­lio at a med­i­cal so­ci­ety mu­seum that ex­hibits out­dated equip­ment such as an iron lung. The low-key event was or­ga­nized as a TV-friendly re­sponse to all the an­ti­vac­ci­na­tion protests.

“Please, please get your chil­dren vac­ci­nated,” said Lynn Lane, 63, who con­tracted po­lio at the age of 5. In 2009, her 24-year-old daugh­ter died of swine flu about three months be­fore a vac­cine be­came avail­able. “She went from per­fectly healthy to gone in 20 days.”

Pan, a pe­di­a­tri­cian who still sees pa­tients in a low­in­come clinic on Fri­days, told me about a dev­as­tat­ing measles out­break he wit­nessed 24 years ago in Penn­syl­va­nia when he was a med­i­cal stu­dent. Nine chil­dren died; none had been vac­ci­nated.

“I thought never to see a case of measles in my ca­reer,” he said. “Peo­ple weren’t get­ting it any­more.”

But that’s not the case, as the world dis­cov­ered last year, when 147 peo­ple were stricken with measles spread by vis­i­tors to Dis­ney­land. The ma­jor­ity of them were un­vac­ci­nated, and, es­pe­cially alarm­ing, some were young adults.

“We are build­ing this un­vac­ci­nated pop­u­la­tion that is get­ting big­ger by the year,” Pan said. “We have to get our vac­ci­na­tion rates back up in our schools and our com­mu­ni­ties and the most ef­fec­tive way is to catch kids be­fore they en­ter school.”

Pan’s bill most as­suredly has the po­ten­tial to in­flict chaos on fam­i­lies who have taken ad­van­tage of the pro­tec­tion pro­vided by chil­dren who are fully im­mu­nized. If the bill passes, vac­cine-re­sis­tant par­ents will have to home-school their chil­dren.

Although I take the ACLU’s points, I be­lieve the state does in­deed have a com­pelling in­ter­est here.

Schools should have the right to ban un­vac­ci­nated chil­dren. One kid’s civil lib­erty can­not trump an­other’s health and safety.

Rich Pedroncelli As­so­ci­ated Press

JES­SICA DA­MON kisses her daugh­ter af­ter a com­mit­tee hear­ing on a vac­ci­na­tion bill.

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