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Making it a little harder to say no to vaccination

August 24, 2012|By Karin Klein
  • An empty vial of vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough
An empty vial of vaccine for tetanus, diphtheria and whooping cough (Rich Pedroncelli / Associated…)

Declining rates of childhood vaccination have been worrying public health officials for the past several years--although this year's figures show an uptick. The health of children -- and society at large--depends on herd immunity, meaning that enough people are immune to an illness to keep even the unvaccinated safe. There just isn't enough of the illness around to make it a problem.

That's why parents who don't vaccinate their children can boast that there have been no potentially deadly illnesses in their houses. They're taking advantage of all the parents who get inoculations for their children.

California is one of about 20 states that allows parents to send their children to school without vaccinations simply by filling out a form saying that inoculation runs counter to their personal beliefs. Other states require the much tighter religious exemption; a couple states have no exemptions except for children who have medical conditions that would make vaccination dangerous.

By dangerous, they don't mean that the parents believe in the thoroughly disproven canard that vaccines cause autism.

Now the California Legislature is considering taking one cautious step toward making it a little harder for parents to refuse to vaccinate their children. They would have to first have a sit-down with a health professional--and the list of such professionals is long--to discuss the risks and benefits of vaccination. They then would be free to make the decision.

A similar law in the state of Washington reportedly reduced the number of "personal belief" exemptions in that state by 25%. In other words, parents who had to make a better-informed decision were more likely to decide in favor of vaccination.

AB 2109 is carried by Assemblyman Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a pediatrician. The question is how many hoops parents should have to go through to make this health decision for their children--keeping in mind that their decision could affect the health of other children. Where does personal choice end and societal responsibility begin?

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