July 8, 2016
A group of California parents and the nonprofit Education 4 All have filed a federal lawsuit against the state of California, arguing that the state’s new mandatory vaccination law violates children’s right to education.
The right to education is guaranteed by the California constitution. The new law, however, bars children from both public and private schools if they have not received all 10 vaccines on the state’s required vaccine schedule. This leaves parents who have strong vaccination objections without any options other than homeschooling, independent study programs or moving – options that may not be available to poorer families.
The lawsuit seeks to have the law, SB277, declared unconstitutional, and is asking for its implementation to be delayed until the matter is decided.
SB277 “has made second class citizens out of children who for very compelling reasons are not [fully] vaccinated,” said plaintiff’s attorney Robert T. Moxley.
Among strictest laws in nation
The debate preceding the passage of SB277 was among the fiercest ever seen in the California capitol. The law was pushed through following the 2014 Disneyland measles outbreak, which health officials blamed – with little scientific support – on communities with low vaccination rates.
The outbreak resulted in 125 infections, about one-fifth of which led to hospitalization. It is believed to have resulted in a single death, that of a woman with a compromised immune system.
Until July 1, when SB277 took effect, California permitted parents to exempt their children from school vaccine requirements if they submitted an affidavit attesting to a personal or religious belief opposed to getting the vaccines in question. SB277 removed both of those options, making California one of only three states (along with Mississippi and West Virginia) that only allows medical exemptions.
Only about 3 percent of Californian kindergartners used the personal or religious exemption options.
The new law applies to public schools, private schools and daycare facilities, but not to homeschooled children or those independent study programs without a classroom component. Children who do not meet the requirements will be unable to enter kindergarten or seventh grade.
The only permitted reasons for a medical exemption are spelled out in state regulations, and include a negative response to prior vaccination in the child or a close relative, or compromised immune status.
The required vaccines are measles, mumps and rubella (MMR); diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis (DTaP); hepatitis B, hemophilus B (Hib), polio and varicella (chickenpox).
Notably, chickenpox is widely considered a non-serious illness, and hepatitis B is spread only through blood or sexual contact. Yet, Californian children cannot start kindergarten unless they have had those shots.
“You’re going to deny my child an education because she has not had a chickenpox vaccine?” said Nina Jensen of Morgan Hill. “Seriously?”
‘I’m done with California’
Jensen is among the many parents that are now planning to move their families out of state, rather than submit to forced vaccination. Her family is moving to Oregon, which still allows personal exemptions to parents who agree to meet with a doctor and take an online course about the risks of opting out of vaccines.
“I’m done with California,” said Kristen Kinne, a mother who is hoping to move her family to Idaho. Her 5-year-old daughter suffered from hives and a recurring fever after receiving a vaccine at nine months, but Kinne worries that wouldn’t be enough to get her children exempted.
Kinne also has a 7-month-old son.
“I understand the argument for public health,” Kinne said, “but I don’t think 160 cases of measles is a health hazard.”
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