Vaccine opponents vow legal fight

Opponents of a bill signed Tuesday by Gov. Jerry Brown eliminating most exemptions from vaccination requirements for students attending California schools called for civil disobedience and legal challenges.

Brown signed Senate Bill 277, authored by state Sen. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento, and Sen. Ben Allen, D-Santa Monica, one day after it was forwarded to him by the state Senate on Monday.

The bill, one of the strictest in the country, requires students at public and private schools in California to be vaccinated for 10 common childhood diseases unless there is a medical reason they cannot receive the vaccination.

Inspired by a measles outbreak in California that started at Disneyland in December, the bill triggered heated debate and passionate testimony on both sides.

Proponents, including San Francisco and Marin county supervisors, physicians groups and school districts, pointed to the risk posed to public health by low vaccination rates in some communities. Opponents, who conducted a Twitter campaign with the hashtag #hearus, argued that the vaccines also carry risks and said parents should have the right to choose whether to use them or seek a religious exemption.

Brown said Tuesday in his signing statement:

“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases. … While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”

Brown noted that the state Legislature amended the bill to allow exemptions from immunizations whenever a child’s physician specifically concludes there are reasons they are not advisable.

Under the new law, unvaccinated students will now need to be either home schooled, attend a multi-family private home school, or use an independent study program.

The new law was hailed by state Superintendent Tom Torlakson, who said it would protect the health of the community, especially those too young or too ill to be vaccinated and increase vaccination rates.

Torlakson said in a statement Tuesday:

“These rates have dropped so low during the past few years that the risk of disease outbreaks has risen significantly. … At the same time, the bill provides educational options for families that decide against vaccinating their children.”

Opponents today decried Brown’s decision, with the group Californians for Vaccine Choice calling it a “tragic day for California” and vowing legal action.

The group said today in a statement on its Facebook page:

“A new battle will begin in the courts now. We will not back down. … We will not go away. … No matter how long it takes, we will protect our children and the parents’ right to choose.”

Randy Thomasson, president of SaveCalifornia.com, a conservative social advocacy group, said he was urging parents to commit civil disobedience by refusing to have their children vaccinated and urging their schools, especially smaller private and church schools, to ignore the law. He called the law “tyranny” and said parental choice and control were part of a higher “moral law.”

Thomasson said of parents:

“They shouldn’t comply if they have a concern. … Why would you put something in your child’s body if you think it will harm them and the state says you should do it?”

He said it was unlikely many public schools would vigorously enforce the law, since kicking out students would cause them to lose funding based on attendance figures:

“There’s no teeth in SB 277.”

The vaccinations required to attend schools under the bill are diphtheria, hepatitis B, haemophilus influenzae type B, measles, mumps, pertussis, poliomyelitis, rubella, tetanus, and varicella, commonly known as chickenpox.

Students who currently have personal beliefs exemptions will not be kicked out of school, but will be allowed to continue enrollment until they enter the next grade span, as outlined in the law. In practice, this means that the new requirements have the most immediate affect on those enrolling in new schools or starting kindergarten or seventh grade.