SB 277 protects kids + gets us useful public health data

While I was busy reading everything written about the King v Burwell decision and celebrating a massive human rights win, California governor Jerry Brown eliminated “personal belief” vaccine exemptions. California now joins Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states that require vaccines for all children unless contraindicated due to medical necessity.

The most important result of the passage of SB 277 is that it says, boldly and definitively, that vaccines are not only safe and necessary for protecting an individual child, but that the safety of the population will not be threatened by pseudoscience and conspiracy theories.

Even if the law doesn’t significantly change vaccination rates, its passage elevates the status of vaccines. It says to California parents you can believe whatever outrageous ideas you want, but your anti-science views cannot endanger other people, especially other children.

SB 277 implementation also gives officials an opportunity to research the ways that vaccine legislation impacts public health. Wired puts it nicely:

Whether or not the law has a significant effect on the health of California’s kids, this is a prime opportunity to carefully study the effects of legislation like this on both vaccination and disease rates. Health officials would love to know for sure that SB277 will have a meaningful impact on public health. But they can’t. It’s notoriously hard to draw connections between statewide vaccine laws and disease numbers.

This is awesome! Ending the personal exemption means that all kids enrolled in public school must receive all vaccinations. And we’ll be able to get good data on potential connections between legislation, vaccination rates, and disease outbreaks. End of story. Right?

Not necessarily.

There seems to be a loophole that will allow doctors who have inexplicably been converted over the anti-vaccine cause and who believe that a vaccine may harm a child to give medical exemptions. 

Presumably, this exists because some kids are just flat out allergic to some vaccines (on a personal note, I’m allergic to the pertussis vaccine so I depend on herd immunity, myself).  I haven’t found much analysis of this caveat aside from general statements about not giving a vaccine to kids who are allergic to it. I wouldn’t be surprised if we see families seeking exemptions through a doctor who believes vaccines are harmful for all children and who are then being kept from enrolling their children in public schools.

I’m eager to see how this unfolds, both among pro- and anti-vaxxers and as a new way of understanding how policy decisions impact public health. California, thank you for giving this a shot for the rest of us, and thank you for taking a stand against the nonsense bubbling up across the country.