Controversy in California: Childhood Vaccines Now Mandatory

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A landmark bill was just passed in California which will make vaccinations necessary for all students, unless they have a medical exemption or the parents choose to homeschool their children. This law eliminates the personal and religious belief exemptions completely, and was met with overwhelming praise, although not without protest. It has been the subject of heated debate for the past few months, although it was finally approved last Tuesday. The Golden State has been forced to take extra precautions after a measles outbreak at Disneyland wreaked havoc on the public, leaving over a hundred people infected.

The bill passed with bipartisan support in the Assembly before it was sent to California Governor Jerry Brown, who hastily signed it, enabling it to finally become a law. Politicians have mixed views on this topic, although it seems that the consensus is that vaccinations are necessary to protect the health of the general public. Recent events have caused numerous bills to be proposed throughout the country, although California’s is one of the first to be set in motion.

Two other states, West Virginia and Mississippi, have already imposed similar laws, and they have proven to very successful so far. California made a wise decision in following the lead of its southern counterparts and given how prominent a state California is, it will likely be a model for other states to follow if all goes well. Many states seem to be interested in implementing similar legislation, and so all eyes will be on California to see just how such actions impact its citizens.

This preventative measure is aimed at schools–both public and private institutions–as well as day care centers. This law also creates clear guidelines for future requirements regarding vaccines so that there are no questions of procedure or exemption. There will now be two vaccination checkpoints for children, one at the kindergarten level, and one in seventh grade. A grandfather clause was also created, which will allow children to wait until the next checkpoint to be vaccinated if they missed the first one due to a personal belief exemption before this change was instituted.

The subject of vaccination has proven to be a very contentious topic in the United States in recent years. But what’s most important is the science behind this decision, and the experts believe that this law is imperative for preventing future outbreaks. Pediatricians in California have high hopes for this new policy, announcing their beliefs that it will most likely increase immunization rates and stop diseases from spreading. The goal is to protect the masses, not only children, but entire communities. So long as the vast majority of people are vaccinated, then the chances of another outbreak are astronomically low. Research has proven that such stringent rules help to create safer environments, so why do so many still have a problem with vaccines?

While the reasons for the opposition to vaccines do merit some recognition, since there is always the microscopic chance of complications, it is obvious that the pros far outweigh the cons in this situation. Many people believe that they can cause disorders such as autism, despite most research debunking this theory. Most other objections are due to personal or religious reasons. Parents used to be able to simply check a box to decide whether or not to inoculate solely based on their beliefs. While this law makes vaccinations mandatory for the majority, there will still be a few opportunities for exemptions. If parents completely refuse to vaccinate their children, then they must pledge to homeschool their children. Medical exemptions will still be available to those with serious health conditions, although this decision will be left up to the professionals. It was also announced that an amendment might be added to the law, and if passed, would make it so that doctors can use family medical histories of patients when evaluating children for medical exemptions.

Actor Jim Carrey made headlines for speaking out in disgust against the new law, even going so far as to call Brown a fascist. In his infamous Twitter rant, he accused the California legislature of being corrupt and knowingly poisoning children by requiring vaccinations. Carrey is only one of many to voice his furor, although it seems that there are far more supporters than protestors for this law.

Numerous groups have also announced their opposition, including the California ProLife Council, California Nurses for Ethical Standards, and the National Vaccine Information Center. Angry parents joined these groups in posting on social media to express their outrage. There have been many disputes between parents regarding this new legislation, and thousands have even stormed the capitol in protest. One major argument that protestors use against this law is that it takes away a parent’s ability to control what goes into their children’s bodies.

No one died during the measles outbreak at Disneyland, although it was still extremely scary for everyone involved and brought much unwanted attention to California. Disneyland is a major tourist destination that attracts millions of visitors a year, and so such a powerful disease infiltrating this popular institution seemed shocking at the time. Such an outbreak in California was upsetting to many after the disease was supposedly eradicated years ago. This was only the latest event in American history to trigger a national debate on the necessity of vaccines. There was also a recent outbreak of whooping cough in a Los Angeles school district where 90 students were infected, although experts believe that this incident could have been prevented. Officials of this district are praising this new law, as they believe that it will definitely help combat future outbreaks.

This law will not take effect until July of 2016, so those who are unhappy have time to move to another state. Some parents find it to be too drastic and have said that they will sue school districts just to get their child admitted without being vaccinated, although it does not seem that they will be triumphant. This law would mandate the entire state to follow through with the law, with very few exceptions. The hope is that given all of the research and findings associated with the benefits of vaccinations, parents will open their minds to the possibility of vaccines benefiting the public.

Toni Keddell
Toni Keddell is a member of the University of Maryland Class of 2017 and a Law Street Media Fellow for the Summer of 2015. Contact Toni at



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