For those living under a rock ( about which, I’d have to ask “why?”), the USA had its so-called mid-term elections, which are state and Federal elections that happen at the halfway point of the US President’s term. Unfortunately, instead of the blue wave, we got more of a blue ripple, where the Democrats barely won the House, with positive and negative results for Team Blue across the country. In California, there was one state Senate election that was interesting to many of us, the re-election of Richard Pan who is a staunch supporter of vaccines.
Yeah, I think RFK Jr is a black mark on the Kennedy name.
Well, none of this nonsense mattered in the election. Richard Pan won his California State Senate seat 68-32% over an anti-vaccine independent, Eric Frame. Admittedly, Senate District 6 is overwhelmingly Democratic – Hillary Clinton won the district by about the same amount over Donald Trump in 2016.
Richard Pan wasn’t the only pro-vaccine candidate that mattered, but as a California citizen who thinks that protecting young children from vaccine-preventable diseases is a critical healthcare issue, I felt that the re-election of Dr. Pan was a great thing for the state.
Congratulations to Richard Pan. I hope he goes far in California politics (if we’re lucky, there may be a US Senate position open in California in 2020, hint hint).
And to Robert F Kennedy Jr. – you’re a science denier and traitor to progressive politics. You’re in bed with Republicans which include in their membership avowed science deniers and vaccine haters, Donald Trump and Rand Paul. Kindly remove your cranium from your colon. Please.
If you’re a regular reader of this blog or are just generally aware of current issues regarding vaccinations, you know that Governor Jerry Brown of California signed SB 277 into law. The law removes so-called “personal belief exemptions” for vaccinating children before they enter schools.
Thus, the California Senate, led by Senator and Dr. Richard Pan, voted for SB 277, which sailed through the California Senate and Assembly, subsequently becoming law. Its sole purpose was to protect the children of California, the country’s most populous and wealthiest state, from ravages of diseases that were once on the verge of extinction.
Despite the overwhelming support from the legislature and citizens of the state, some groups remain steadfastly opposed. One trope being pushed is doubts about the constitutionality of mandatory vaccinations for children.
…we strongly urge you to decline the temptation to tamper with California’s legislative scheme that works to achieve public health objectives while protecting the rights of individuals to make conscientious medical decisions regarding their own health.
Please take the responsible course by rejecting SB 277 and avoiding the legal, educational, and health decision-making chaos that would follow from enactment of this legislation.
Despite the public health importance of mandatory vaccines for children entering school, some California families are utilizing false or questionable medical claims to jump through loopholes to not vaccinate their children. I have been advocating, along with many others, that California needs to close these loopholes, possibly by having public health experts review all medical exemptions before school children are allowed to enter school. This isn’t to force vaccinations on children, but to protect all children from dangerous, sometimes deadly, vaccine-preventable diseases.
California lawmakers took major steps in 2015 to push more school-aged children to have all of the required vaccinations necessary to reduce the risk of outbreaks of vaccine-preventable diseases. This vaccine mandate, established by California SB277 sponsored by state Senator, and pediatrician, Dr. Richard Pan, D-Sacramento. The law specifically barred parents from utilizing personal belief exemption as a basis to refuse to have their children vaccinated.
The vaccine mandate had a very quick pay off. In 2017, the state Department of Public Health reported that the vaccine uptake was around 95.6% of kindergartners, the highest seen in California since the 2001-2002 school year. The uptake rate had increased, as of 2017, 5.2 percentage points from 2015, prior to SB277.
Recently, I called the anti-vaccine mob a religion, because it shows many signs of being a religion from faith-based beliefs to a “clergy” that proselytizes about the evils of vaccines. And we can observe the same level of hatred pushed by some extremist religions in the irrational anti-vaccine anger, racism, and physical threats. It can be scary.
About two years ago, California’s governor, Jerry Brown, signed SB277 into law, which mandated that all school age children must have all vaccines appropriate for their age before they could enter private or public schools. The law nearly eliminated the ability to get personal belief exemptions (PBE), which allowed parents to object to vaccinations for almost any reason. The new law does allow for medical exemptions, that is, children who have some medical condition that contraindicates a vaccine may be exempted from these rules. As a result of this law, it was predicted that the California vaccine uptake for school age children would increase substantially, while reducing the incidence of vaccine preventable diseases.
Those of us who have been keen observers and supporters of SB277 were hoping for the best – that the vaccination rate in the state would show increases quickly. And it did.
Data released this week (pdf), from the California Department of Public Health, showed an exceptional increase in the percentage of California’s kindergarteners who were fully vaccinated (for their age group) – it rose from 92.8% to 95.6%. But, there’s even more astonishing data underneath that. With the advent of the new law, 97.3% of California’s kindergartners have received both MMR vaccinations, up from 94.5% in 2016 and 92.6% in 2014. The same was shown for diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine – it went from 94.2% in 2015 to 96.9% in 2016. There should be cheering in the streets of California for the success of SB277.
The increase in vaccine uptake for all mandated vaccines is dramatic – not only does it show that SB277 has stemmed the overuse of personal belief exemptions that was slowly reducing California vaccine uptake, but it also has increased that uptake to levels far above historical. This graph illustrates how well the law has worked in a short period of time:
The best part of the law is that it’s increasing vaccine uptake in areas of the state where the overuse of PBEs was pushing the vaccination rate down. Most California’s counties have vaccination rates above 95%, which is considered the level at which the herd effect for measles vaccinations prevent the rapid spreading of the disease. Furthermore, only 4 relatively small counties in California have rates below 90%.
California state Senator Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), who is also a pediatrician and who was one of the primary supporters of SB277, tweeted out “Great News.” Obviously he’s ecstatic with this data on California vaccine uptake across the state.
Dr. Pan was interviewed by the Los Angeles Times, and said,
Measles certainly hasn’t gone away. We need to be sure to have our immunization levels high enough. The fact that this class and the state overall has now achieved this level is one further step to restore the community immunity we had before.
He also noted that the data shows the significant increase in very young children, kindergartners. He mentioned that there are still significant number of older children who are not vaccinated because of the lax requirements in previous vaccine laws, which made PBEs very easy to get. SB277 also requires 7th graders to be completely up-t0-date on their vaccines, so all children should eventually be caught up with their vaccines. Unfortunately, many students who have passed that 7th grade vaccination checkpoint may be insufficiently vaccinated. Or not vaccinated at all.
The University of California (UC) system has stated that it will require vaccines for all new enrollees at its 10 campuses (along with the UC Hastings College of Law which has decided to comply with the UC requirements). Like the state law, it eliminates all personal belief exemptions, but does allow medical ones. Eventually, this mandate will cover the over 230,000 students in the system.
There are reasons to cheer all of this news out of California regarding immunization rates. But that’s just one state, albeit the largest and arguably the most influential state in the country. Other than California, only two other states have laws that have eliminated personal belief exemptions for immunizations – Mississippi and West Virginia, both of which have high vaccine uptake. And the easy availability of personal belief exemptions have lead many states to have vaccination rates of the MMR vaccine that are far below the 95% target. This graphic shows which states have significant deviations from the 95% standard for MMR vaccine (thanks to BuzzFeedNews):
Sadly, it may not be possible for a lot of states to copy California’s success with vaccines. One of the worst performing states for the MMR vaccine is Colorado, and, according to BuzzFeed News,
Vaccine advocates in Colorado are envious of their counterparts in California. “We are watching California very closely, and kudos to them for getting that bill through,” Stephanie Wasserman, executive director of the Colorado Children’s Immunization Coalition, told BuzzFeed News.
She believes it would be very difficult to enact similar legislation in Colorado, which has libertarian conservatives who reject government mandates on vaccines, as well as liberal enclaves like Boulder where many parents seek out alternative health care and see vaccines as a tool of Big Pharma.
Libertarian conservatives and liberals on the same side of the fence on vaccines? The problem with both groups is that they ignore the health of children just to be “politically virtuous” about vaccines. Except they are scientifically and medically wrong.
So let’s give an ovation for hard working politicians of California, who decided that the health of the state’s children was the paramount consideration for vaccinations. Dr. Pan and many other state legislators decided that the most effective way of increasing the California vaccine uptake was to reduce the availability of personal belief exemptions. And they were right – California’s immunization rate has increased appreciably because of SB277.
I and others have written several articles on this website about the anti-vaccine hate debate – discussing the atrocious and hateful behavior of a large portion of the anti vaccination cult.
This kind of “free speech” goes beyond simple mockery, ad hominem attacks, or, though it rarely happens, arguments about the science. Ad hominem attacks are, by definition, personal attacks that are used in lieu of real evidence. So, if you lack evidence to support your side of a debate (even a fake debate like what is happening with vaccines), you attack the person, rather than the evidence.
The vaccine hate debate on exists because they have nothing – no evidence of harm, no evidence of a lack of benefit. None. Ground zero of the Facebook anti-vaccine hate crazies is The Vaccine Resistance Movement (VRM) – read their hatred and lies. Donald Trump would be proud of them.
These anti-vaxxer crackpots were beside themselves recently, when the New York University Langone Medical Center hosted a lecture and panel discussion entitled “Confronting Vaccine Resistance – Strategies for Success.” Sounds like a great one to attend.
But what must have caused arteries to burst across the anti-vaxxer world are the list of speakers – Dr. Paul Offit, Dr. Richard Pan, and Prof. Dorit Rubinstein Reiss. If you’re unfamiliar with these three, at which point I would have to ask why you don’t know them, let me spend a minute just telling you about them.
Dr. Pan is a California State Senator who lead the fight for California SB 277, which mandated vaccines for children in school. Of course, the anti-vaccine movement did not appreciate this effort to save lives of children, so they attacked Dr. Pan in some particularly filthy ways.
Finally, Prof. Reiss, a tenured professor of law at University of California Hastings School of Law, is a regular contributor to this website. She is an expert on vaccines and the law and is one of the most civil individuals I know in spite of withering attacks on herself, her family, her education, and yes, her ethnicity. She has to deal with disgusting and disturbing anti-semitic attacks, along with just about every other personal attack one could imagine.
So these three are together in New York discussing how to overcome vaccine resistance. I’m almost certain that the anti-vaxxer cult will will think these lectures are presented in the Gates of Hell by three demons. Nah, I’m sure I exaggerate, they will hardly notice.