Earlier this year, a massive outbreak of measles at Disneyland, infecting 147 people before it was contained. Though there has been a measles vaccine for more than five decades, the Disneyland incident (and a rise in other similar outbreaks across the country) was traced back to pockets of parents who refused to vaccinate their children, known as anti-vaxxers. As a result, many states have since taken up legislation to make it harder for parents to skip vaccines.
One such bill in California, SB 277, would remove the “personal belief exemption” that currently allows parents who oppose vaccines wholesale to avoid getting their children immunized. The opt-out rate in California, based largely on misinformation about the supposed link between vaccines and conditions like autism, has doubled in the past seven years. In one Berkeley kindergarten, for instance, the personal belief exemption is so widely used that 7 in 8 children aren’t vaccinated.
According to State Assembly GOP Leader Kristin Olsen, however, the idea of requiring vaccinations for children in public and private schools “erodes parental rights.” In an interview on the Broeske & Musson radio program last week, Olsen declared that, despite the Disneyland outbreak, “there’s really no need for this bill whatsoever,” dismissing it as an “emotional reaction” to a “one-time incident.”
“I think this is an example of people overreacting to incidences,” Olsen told the hosts. “What we need to make sure in Sacramento is we’re making decisions based on logic and sound data.”
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The reason why California lawmakers are considering SB 277 is because scientists have figured out that once the portion of a population that’s been vaccinated drops below 95 percent or so, that population no longer enjoys herd immunity. Without herd immunity, highly contagious diseases like measles can flourish. According to data compiled by the New York Times, more than a quarter of California kindergartens are currently below the herd immunity rate.
SB 277 passed the State Senate in May by a 25–11 vote. It’s currently awaiting a full vote in the State Assembly.