Sacramento Bee: Pro-vax majority can’t take safety for granted now

Don’t forget Disneyland outbreak

March 18, 2015

By: Editorial Board

Sens. Richard Pan of Sacramento, at podium, and Ben Allen of Santa Monica, far left, introduce legislation that would end California’s vaccine exemption loophole. The bill has broad backing, but no guarantee of passage as the public moves on from the Disneyland measles outbreak.

A new study has confirmed what Californians know already – that the Disneyland measles outbreak was fueled by scarily low immunization rates.

The report Monday in the journal JAMA Pediatrics found that the areas where the disease spread were far short of the 95 percent vaccination threshold needed to prevent infections from traveling. Rates were as low as 50 percent by some calculations, and even in the best-case modeling, they were a good 10 percentage points shy of where they should be.

The clear takeaway is that California’s gapingly lax vaccine exemption laws need to be tightened, and pronto. That should be a slam-dunk case for Senate Bill 277, which would repeal the state’s broad “personal belief” exemption and allow only medically based opt-outs to school vaccination mandates.

But as the measles contagion recedes, the bill, carried by Democratic Sens. Richard Pan of Sacramento and Ben Allen of Santa Monica, already is facing some obvious hurdles. And that should be a wake-up call for the state’s pro-vaccination majority.

Procedurally, for instance, legislative leaders have scheduled SB 277 to run through not one, not two, but three Senate committees. That gives its opponents, who range from the chiropractic lobby to high-profile Hollywood anti-vaxxers, multiple shots at killing or crippling it before it ever reaches the Senate floor.

Granted, some of those committee chairs are co-authors. Raising vaccination rates is a stated priority of legislative leaders. And maximizing discussion of the bill’s impact – educational, health and judicial – will spotlight the issue and inform the public. One argument, for example, holds that removing the personal-belief exemption could impact religious exemptions, which in turn could raise First Amendment questions.

But historically, triple-referring a bill is a good way to ensure its doom.

Then there’s the opposition, which is already mustering its army. This week, celebrity vaccine skeptic Robert F. Kennedy Jr. told The Bee’s Laurel Rosenhall that he’s trying to screen an anti-vax movie for state lawmakers before they vote.

“Trace Amounts” is a crank-a-palooza of misinformation, flogging the discredited claim that vaccines cause autism. But it debuted at L.A.’s Chinese Theatre and got raves from Hollywood’s anti-vax crowd.

Pan, a pediatrician, says he’s only too happy to refute such a barrage of baloney. But Kennedy credits the “documentary” with helping derail efforts in other states to require more vaccinations, so there’s no guarantee that the public won’t be misled by it.

That’s why it’s so important for everyone to weigh in on this issue. The anti-vax crowd may be passionate and vocal and sincerely afraid, but they’re a minority.

It was measles this time, but that Patient Zero at Disneyland could have been carrying pertussis or worse, polio, which public health officials fear could return as vaccination rates decline. The rest of us have rights, too, that unfortunately we can’t afford to take for granted, including the right not to be threatened again by preventable disease.