Anti-vaxxers make clear they won’t quit

Porterville Recorder - - OPINION - Thomas ELIAS Email Thomas Elias at [email protected] For more Elias col­umns, visit www.cal­i­for­ni­afo­cus.net.

There were a lot of les­sons from the fall elec­tion cam­paign whose re­sults only re­cently be­came com­pletely fi­nal, in­clud­ing these: Pres­i­dent Trump has no clout beyond his vo­cal base, women vot­ers can swing con­trol of one or both houses of Congress, un­pop­u­lar taxes can sur­vive even if they were en­acted on just a nar­row vote.

But one les­son that many Cal­i­for­ni­ans may have missed is that anti-vac­ci­na­tion ad­vo­cates who be­lieve dis­ease-pre­vent­ing in­oc­u­la­tions can some­time cause autism and other ills will not go away soon. These folks would rather sub­ject mil­lions of other peo­ple to pos­si­ble harm from once-feared scourges like measles, mumps, rubella, po­lio and whoop­ing cough than give up the free­dom to ex­pose their own chil­dren to those dis­eases.

They also find new ways to cir­cum­vent rules set up to pro­tect the gen­eral pop­u­lace and will go af­ter any politi­cian who’s in­ter­fered with their for­mer right to “per­sonal ex­emp­tions.” The per­sis­tence pro­duced one of the fall’s least-re­ported but still in­ter­est­ing cam­paigns, a state Se­nate race in Sacra­mento. Run­ning for re­elec­tion was Demo­crat Richard Pan, the state Leg­is­la­ture’s only pe­di­a­tri­cian and the author of Cal­i­for­nia’s 2015 law that ended per­sonal ex­emp­tions.

This law stopped par­ents’ right to claim even with­out proof that their re­li­gious beliefs for­bade them from get­ting their school-age chil­dren vac­ci­nated.

Af­ter it passed, the vac­ci­na­tion rate among Cal­i­for­nia pub­lic school kinder­garten­ers rose from 90.4 per­cent in the 2014-15 school year to 95.1 per­cent in 2017-18. As a re­sult, far fewer chil­dren are be­ing ex­posed to measles than be­fore, sav­ing both lives and money. Also, par­ents num­ber­ing at least in the hun­dreds have been forced un­will­ingly to get their kids vac­ci­nated so they could reg­is­ter to at­tend classes.

But other anti-vax par­ents found a way around the new rules, tak­ing ad­van­tage of the re­main­ing right to a med­i­cal ex­emp­tion if a physi­cian writes that a child could be harmed by a vac­cine.

The peer-re­viewed med­i­cal jour­nal “Pe­di­atrics” re­ported in Novem­ber that one Cal­i­for­nia doc­tor was get­ting $300 each for sign­ing med­i­cal ex­emp­tions from vac­ci­na­tions for measles, po­lio, dipthe­ria, chicken pox and other dis­eases. The jour­nal said a nurse prac­ti­tioner also had writ­ten ex­emp­tions, when only physi­cians can legally do so. And it found other doc­tors who al­ready is­sue med­i­cal mar­i­juana rec­om­men­da­tions for pot dis­pen­saries have added vac­ci­na­tion ex­emp­tions to their reper­toire.

Over­all, med­i­cal ex­emp­tions have tripled since 2015, ris­ing as high as 20 per­cent of kids reg­is­ter­ing in a few schools. Doc­tors say that fig­ure demon­strates at least some med­i­cal ex­emp­tions are “in­ap­pro­pri­ate,” po­lite lan­guage for phony.

Into that cli­mate came in­de­pen­dent state Se­nate can­di­date Eric Frame to op­pose Pan, who had no op­po­si­tion from ei­ther ma­jor po­lit­i­cal party.

Frame got 13 per­cent of the pri­mary elec­tion vote and 31 per­cent of fall runoff votes, say­ing “It’s a fact that chil­dren have ad­verse re­ac­tions” to vac­cines. Trou­ble is, that’s not a known fact: Wide­lyre­ported “stud­ies” mak­ing that claim have been thor­oughly de­bunked, many of their au­thors forced to re­cant and apol­o­gize. Ma­jor health and sci­ence or­ga­ni­za­tions unan­i­mously say vac­cines may rarely have small side ef­fects, but no ma­jor ones like the claimed cases of autism.

Re­sponded Pan to Frame’s cam­paign claims, “Spread­ing mis­in­for­ma­tion about vac­cines is dan­ger­ous. We’ve seen a fall in vac­ci­na­tion rates when peo­ple spread mis in­for­ma­tion… and we’ve seen a re­turn of (some) pre­ventable dis­eases.”

This doesn’t de­ter the anti-vaxxers, one of whose chief spokes­men is Robert F. Kennedy Jr., who re­acted dur­ing the cam­paign to Pan’s com­ment by charg­ing Pan “would com­pletely abol­ish free speech on­line in Cal­i­for­nia…”

Kennedy and other anti-vaxxers can’t fac­tu­ally ar­gue with Pan’s state­ment in “Pe­di­atrics” that “Vac­cines are (more than) 1,000 times safer than the dis­eases they pre­vent…(even though) vac­cine risks may be too high for a few peo­ple, for ex­am­ple, those with a known se­vere al­lergy to a vac­cine.”

The up­shot is that anti-vaxxers can only gain trac­tion when par­ents be­come cred­u­lous enough to be­lieve un­proven claims, claims that don’t be­come valid just be­cause some peo­ple deeply be­lieve them. But there is no sign that any law will di­min­ish their beliefs or their de­ter­mi­na­tion to evade vac­ci­na­tion re­quire­ments.

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