Mother of three Lisa Porter says motherhood changed her view of vaccinations. Now, after the births of her three-year-old daughter and five-and-a-half-month twins, she said it would be “irresponsible” for her not to protect her children.
Porter is one of the many thousands who have recently rallied behind a petition on MoveOn.org to petition for the “California State Government to make vaccines mandatory for all K-12 California school children, except for those with specific medical conditions.”
According to the petition’s MoveOn.org page, schools would also be required to make the current percentage of enrolled students public and would eliminate one of the exemptions to opt out of vaccinations, “Personal Belief Exemptions.”
“Public health officials have tied the rise in pertussis and measles to the lowering of the vaccination rate. If this trend continues, the immunity of the entire population is threatened (known as ‘herd immunity’),” the petition says. “Dangerous communicable diseases will spread further, and will also affect people who have been vaccinated—those with weakened immune systems, the very young, the very old, and the like.”
For Porter, she sees this law as something bigger than just her family, that the responsibility extends beyond her three children.
“If I’m willing to help a kid who’s not mine on the playground, why not for something potentially life threatening? And it makes me angry to hear people talk about protecting only their kids, as if we’re not all in this together and that their decisions don’t affect everyone,” Porter said. “I’m no scientist, and believe we’re all doing the best we can and just feeling our way through these decisions, but when it comes to larger issues of public health, I just think vaccinating is the right choice.”
The petition has since been signed by more than 18,500 people, including Sam Harris, author, neuroscientist and founder of Project Reason, a movement for “spreading science and secular values.” It needs 20,000 signatures before it is sent to Governor Jerry Brown.
Current National and State Vaccine Laws
As it currently stands, Health and Safety Code 120335 refers to vaccine requirements for schools, daycares and development centers. The law states the governing authority, in this case, the school district or administrators, cannot admit any student without being immunized from “Diphtheria, Haemophilus influenzae type b, Measles, Mumps, Pertussis (whooping cough), Poliomyelitis, Rubella, Tetanus, Hepatitis B, Varicella (chickenpox) and any other disease deemed appropriate by the department, taking into consideration the recommendations of the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices of the United States Department of Health and Human Services.”
However, there are exceptions, or exemptions, to this law: medical exemption, religious exemption and personal belief exemption.
According to the National Vaccine Information Center, medical exemption is one of the most protected of the three, since it covers those who would be at risk from getting a vaccine, such as an allergic reaction or immunodefiency disease. It is also the only exemption allowed in all 50 states.
Religious exemption is the second most protected and accepted by the United States. All states have the exemption except for Mississippi and West Virginia.
In order to receive religious exemption, the belief must be “sincerely held,” and some states require a signed affidavit from a pastor or other spiritual leader or a notarized statement. Although, religious freedom has not always been protected depending on the context or time in history.
“In a number of state court cases setting precedent on the issue of vaccine mandates, the freedom to act according to one’s religious beliefs is subject to reasonable regulation if exercise of personal religious beliefs substantially threatens the welfare of society as a whole,” the NVIC website said.
Finally, personal belief exemption is the most debated and is adopted only in 18 states.
“In order to be allowed to exercise the philosophical, conscientious or personal belief exemption in some states, parents or children old enough to give consent (usually age 12 or older) must object to all vaccines and not just one vaccine,” said the NVIC website. “In Washington, Oregon and California, parents seeking a personal belief exemption must first obtain a signature from a medical doctor or other state-designated health care worker in order to file the exemption or may be required to complete a state vaccine education program (Oregon).”
Those Against Mandatory Vaccination
For now, while the nation is recovering from the Measles panic, people are responding in different ways. While there is a large following for the California petition, there are still others on the opposite side of the debate.
One example is the Nurses Against Mandatory Vaccines, which is against “forced medical procedures.” The organization supports that all patients should have the right to refuse medical procedures.
Grand Rapids, Michigan nurse Dusty Elliott-Young is one nurse who is against letting the government decide the public’s medical choices. Instead, she advocates for the freedom of choice.
“As far as vaccination laws, I believe that the government should never be allowed to dictate what we allow to be ‘shot’ into our bodies. This is not a communist state and as Americans we have rights written into our constitution,” Elliott-Young said. “What’s next? Can they mandate that overweight people have gastric bypass, can they arrest people with heart disease if seen smoking? Our health care, our business.”
As part of her stance of vaccine freedom of choice, the nurse of 16 years said she would never tell someone not to vaccinate their own children.
“What I do is encourage them to research on their own. I make them aware that there are dozens of books on the topic that main stream media never mentions. I let them know that these diseases have ways of being treated and not feared,” she said.
Vaccine Disrupting Education
Since the Disney measles outbreak, the complicated link between vaccine law and the education system became more muddled as high schools banned unvaccinated students and a daycare in Chicago was affected by the disease.
For Porter, the California mother of three, children not vaccinated are a risk.
“I understand the frustration that there’s not recourse for parents who can prove that their kids were adversely affected by vaccines (side effects aside), and that people are tired of being required to do certain things by the government,” Porter said. “I understand that we’re all just trying to do our best and make the right decisions for our families. And I totally support doing research and asking questions and not just accepting what we’re told at face value. I even support working with your pediatrician to modify the vaccination schedule if that suits you, but if you’re not going to vaccinate, then quarantine your kids and make sure they aren’t able to infect anyone else.”
How the Government Is Responding in California
United States Senators Barbara Boxer and Dianne Feinstein sent a letter to Secretary of California Health and Human Services Diana Dooley to reconsider California’s policies on vaccine exemptions and seek to end the personal belief exemption.
“While a small number of children cannot be vaccinated due to an underlying medical condition, we believe there should be no such thing as a philosophical or personal belief exemption, since everyone uses public spaces. As we have learned in the past month, parents who refuse to vaccinate their children not only put their own family at risk, but they also endanger other families who choose to vaccinate,” the letter said.
Boxer and Feinstein also write that the medical exemption is too easy to acquire in California, that trends show that parents are “failing to follow full vaccine schedules and schools and daycare centers failing to track those families that have pledged to get the required vaccines after the year begins.”
According to the LA Times, “13,592 California kindergarten students have waivers due to their parents’ personal beliefs; 2,764 of those were based on religious beliefs, state health statistics show.”
Governor Jerry Brown, who voted to keep religious exemptions in 2012, “appeared open to legislation that would eliminate all but medical waivers,” according to the LA Times.
“There are not enough people being vaccinated to contain these dangerous diseases,” said state Senator Richard Pan, a pediatrician said in the article. “We should not wait for more children to sicken or die before we act.”
For more information about the controversy, see CNN’s video: