Cal­i­for­ni­ans sup­port vac­ci­na­tion: Where does Gov. New­som stand?

Lodi News-Sentinel - - OPINION - https:// www.cdc.gov/vac­ci­ne­safety/in­dex .html

When the Black Death hit Europe in the 1340s, peo­ple searched for an­swers. The most com­mon ex­pla­na­tion for the plague, ac­cord­ing to his­to­ri­ans, in­volved “bad air” re­sult­ing from the con­junc­tion of three plan­ets in 1345.

Peo­ple usu­ally looked to the heav­ens for ex­pla­na­tions in the Mid­dle Ages. It would be 665 years be­fore science finally de­ter­mined the plague’s true cause: Yersinia pestis, a disease spread by fleas. In the mean­time, some peo­ple blamed Jews, for­eign­ers, lep­ers and the Ro­mani peo­ple (in ad­di­tion to di­vine wrath) for the pesti­lence. Mas­sacres fol­lowed.

Con­spir­acy the­o­ries se­duce us be­cause they project the il­lu­sion of clar­ity onto un­cer­tainty. They al­low us to trans­form fear into loathing, spurring us to fight against that which we per­ceive as re­spon­si­ble for mis­for­tune. Many things have changed be­tween the Mid­dle Ages and the Sil­i­con Age, but not this: Hu­mans are wired to be­lieve sto­ries — even false ones — be­cause they give or­der to chaos.

Too bad we don’t have a vac­cine to erad­i­cate mis­in­for­ma­tion. If we did, we could avoid to­day’s toxic de­bate over how much au­thor­ity the pub­lic must ex­er­cise to force par­ents to im­mu­nize their chil­dren. All avail­able science tells us that vac­cines save lives and serve the com­mon good by pro­vid­ing “com­mu­nity im­mu­nity” from hor­ri­ble dis­eases. Yet myths and con­spir­a­cies about vac­cines — spread like a plague through so­cial me­dia — per­sist.

At is­sue is the sud­den and in­ex­pli­ca­ble rise in autism over the past few decades. Sci­en­tists have yet to fig­ure out ex­actly what’s caus­ing it, and it may be a com­bi­na­tion of ge­netic and en­vi­ron­men­tal fac­tors. Yet two decades ago, a now-de­bunked pa­per falsely put the blame on vac­cines. The pa­per’s au­thor was even­tu­ally stripped of the right to prac­tice medicine. But the dam­age was done and the anti-vac­ci­na­tion move­ment was born. It wrongly blames vac­cines for a range of mod­ern ills.

The de­bate to­day is not about whether vac­cines are safe and ef­fec­tive. They are, ac­cord­ing to sci­en­tific con­sen­sus. To­day’s de­bate con­cerns how far the state should go to pro­tect pub­lic health from the threat posed by peo­ple who, be­liev­ing pas­sion­ately in false­hoods, put ev­ery­one at risk by re­fus­ing to vac­ci­nate their chil­dren.

Gov. Gavin New­som stepped into the de­bate late last month when he ex­pressed con­cerns about Se­nate Bill 276, which would crack down on doc­tors who al­low par­ents to evade the state’s im­mu­niza­tion laws by pro­vid­ing un­jus­ti­fied med­i­cal ex­emp­tions. The bill would re­quire the Cal­i­for­nia De­part­ment of Pub­lic Health to ap­prove all vac­ci­na­tion ex­emp­tions granted by doc­tors. Sup­port­ers of the bill ar­gue that it’s nec­es­sary be­cause the num­ber of med­i­cal ex­emp­tions has more than quadru­pled since the state banned ex­emp­tions based on “per­sonal be­lief ” in 2015, ac­cord­ing to CDPH.

Af­ter med­i­cal ex­emp­tions be­came the only way to evade vac­ci­na­tion re­quire­ments, “un­scrupu­lous” doc­tors went into the busi­ness of pro­vid­ing them, ac­cord­ing to SB 276 au­thor Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacra­mento. Pan, a doc­tor, be­lieves a crack­down is the only cure, es­pe­cially given re­cent out­breaks of measles around the state. New­som seems un­cer­tain. “I’m a par­ent. I don’t want some­one that the gov­er­nor of Cal­i­for­nia ap­pointed to make a de­ci­sion for my fam­ily,” said the gov­er­nor last week, ac­cord­ing to a Sacra­mento Bee story by Han­nah Wi­ley and Sophia Bol­lag.

The com­ments drew praise from anti-vac­cine ac­tivists and scorn from just about ev­ery­one else. The Los An­ge­les Times Ed­i­to­rial Board ac­cused the gov­er­nor of hav­ing “dan­ger­ously loose lips.” The San Fran­cisco Chron­i­cle Ed­i­to­rial Board called New­som’s com­ments a “mis­be­got­ten tri­an­gu­la­tion.”

It’s hard to see how New­som can evade his duty to sign SB 276. Some 73% of Cal­i­for­ni­ans strongly sup­port the state’s manda­tory vac­cine law, ac­cord­ing to a new poll from the Pub­lic Pol­icy In­sti­tute of Cal­i­for­nia. In po­lit­i­cal terms, act­ing in fa­vor of an in­tense but mis­in­formed mi­nor­ity is a loser. New­som would im­me­di­ately be­come “Gov. Measles.” It would haunt the rest of his po­lit­i­cal ca­reer.

Of course, the gov­er­nor has power to shape and af­fect leg­is­la­tion. If he has le­git­i­mate con­cerns about SB 276, he should ex­plain them publicly and work with the bill’s au­thor to ad­dress them.

At its core, the anti-vac­ci­na­tion move­ment is not about vac­cines. It’s an anti-gov­ern­ment con­spir­acy the­ory. In or­der to be­lieve the an­ti­vac­ci­na­tion line, you have to be­lieve the gov­ern­ment is work­ing to cover up a big, harm­ful se­cret. It’s para­noid think­ing, and that para­noia only in­creases when you per­ceive gov­ern­ment as in­ter­fer­ing with your child’s health.

Let’s be clear: The anti-vac­ci­na­tion crowd is 100% wrong. That’s science. Yet the ques­tion over how much power the pub­lic should ex­er­cise against the faith and be­lief of mis­guided in­di­vid­u­als is a sticky one. In the vac­cine de­bate, how­ever, pub­lic health should clearly take prece­dence over mis­guided and un­sup­ported be­liefs. Af­ter all, peo­ple who don’t want to vac­ci­nate their chil­dren can homeschool them.

New­som must work with Pan to ad­dress any con­cerns he might have about SB 276. The bill must en­force the manda­tory vac­ci­na­tion law while also en­sur­ing that the sta­tis­ti­cally small per­cent­age of chil­dren who need med­i­cal ex­emp­tions can get them.

The gov­er­nor must also clear up any false per­cep­tions he cre­ated when he ex­pressed doubt about the bill. His com­ments caused anti-vac­ci­na­tion ac­tivists to cel­e­brate, de­pict­ing his com­ments as a le­git­imiza­tion of their de­bunked cause. This is dan­ger­ous be­cause it can con­tribute to the un­war­ranted fear of vac­cines. The vac­cine is­sue is so volatile that Rus­sian trolls and bots are ac­tively us­ing it on so­cial me­dia to sow more dis­cord in Amer­i­can so­ci­ety, ac­cord­ing to a re­cent re­port from Ge­orge Wash­ing­ton Univer­sity.

Clar­ity on what the gov­er­nor ac­tu­ally meant is needed to help in­oc­u­late against, rather than spread, anti-vac­ci­na­tion pro­pa­ganda.

For more in­for­ma­tion on vac­cine safety, visit the Cen­ters for Disease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion at

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