Illustration by David Rosenman

Illustration by David Rosenman

Yesterday California Governor Jerry Brown signed a childhood vaccination bill into law along with a letter stating, “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.” The hash-tagged, much discussed bill (#SB277) was co-authored and proposed to lawmakers by Dr Richard Pan, a pediatrician and CA state senator in Sacramento. The law, SB 277, establishes one of the toughest mandatory vaccination requirements in the nation for school children and those in child-care centers. As imagined, the process of getting the bill into law was not for the faint of heart. Riding on realities of necessary community immunity unveiled during the 2014-2015 Disney measles outbreak, the idea of mandating vaccines for public health still ignited evocative and divisive bullying campaigns on social media.

We can’t forget that these outbreaks are dangerous (over 20 people were hospitalized for measles during the Disney outbreak and 5 children in Chicago got measles while at daycare). Remember that infants are more vulnerable to getting measles and they’re also at greater risk to die from it.

Testimony before the state senate was reported to be passionate, evocative, and compelling from both sides. The law passed the senate by a 24 – 14 vote and went to the governor. By signing the bill into law yesterday, Governor Brown acknowledges a tenet in public health and vaccination: vaccines are for individuals, yes, but they also serve to protect others — those especially vulnerable and not.

California now joins two select states (Mississippi and West Virginia) mandating shots for children and disallowing parents from opting-out of vaccinations recommended by the schools based on religious or other personal beliefs. Medical exemptions are still allowed for children when necessary.

Mandating vaccines pushes and pulls on the balance of public health and personal liberties so emotional responses make so much sense to me. Yet these efforts to improve public health and community protection place a value on vaccines that is evidence-based. We know immunization benefits extend past the person who receives them. Immunizations protect individuals, those vulnerable, and our communities at large all at once. This law in California (and Mississippi and West Virginia) acknowledge that.

What Does This Mean For Children In California?

The new California law will require children who enter day care and school to be vaccinated against highly infectious diseases including things like measles, whooping cough or chicken pox. After January 1st, 2016 parents will be unable to opt-out of immunizations for personal beliefs or religious reasons. If parents have concerns about their child’s health and specific vaccines, parents can partner with their pediatric team to opt-out for medical reasons. Medical conditions like allergies and immune-system deficiencies, or a family history confirmed by a physician, can be used to opt out of vaccines. Thankfully though, those children unable to get all vaccines will be better protected by their fully-immunized peers while at school. Parents could still decline to vaccinate children who attend home-based schools based on personal or religious beliefs.

Three states where it’s now safer to go to school — something they definitely have in common.

More Reading on #SB277: