California wants to call the shots

California has the potential to potential to push the envelope further with its newest health-related bill, SB 277. Media, doctors and citizens alike have taken to commenting from nearly every angle on what could be considered one of the most controversial pieces of legislation of the year. The subject matter is simple: Should parents be able to waive the necessity to vaccinate their children based solely on personal or religious beliefs?

Vaccination, of course, is a reference to the series of injections that are fairly commonplace amongst child health care. While the ‘main vaccinations’ are not often debated, the CDC has a list of all vaccinations they recommend a child receives. This includes immunization against the following: Diphtheria, Hepatitis B, Influenza Type B, Measles, Mumps, Pertussis, Polio, Rubella, Tetanus and Varicella (Chicken Pox). Pro-vaccination health care professionals are also quick to mention that immunizations are not perfect. In fact, almost all of the above mentioned vaccines are effective to roughly 90% of the population.

An example of a vaccine.

An example of a vaccine.

Vaccines played a crucial role in 19th and 20th century medicine. Each and every one of the above-mentioned viruses was, at one point, rampaging around the earth killing millions of people.  Outbreaks of severe proportions were seen across the nation, and even across the world. According to,  In 1855, Massachusetts became the first state to require immunization for children to enter public school. This eventually grew to 20 states by 1963 and to all 50 states present day. Only 19 states, including California, allow exemption of vaccination due to personal belief.

Throughout this time period, opposition grew against immunizations as they rendered some fairly horrific side-effects. But as medicine grew stronger and people became more sure of immunizations, the United States reached an all-time high level of vaccinated residents in the early 2000’s. Only recently have additional arguments come into play stating that vaccines have the potential to cause autism in children. This debate has continued on, but has lost traction due to disproved medical evidence. The conversation has now again shifted to whether or not parents should be absolutely required to vaccinate their children, regardless of their personal beliefs.

Although many factors likely brought this topic to the high status level it now occupies, a recent outbreak of measles at Disneyland prompted California residents to raise special concern over the number of vaccinated residents within the state, specifically children. What was once a simple, important conversation has turned into a statewide battle with lobby groups, parental rights activists and the medical community all weighing in on the matter. To dissect the argument from the top, we should all be reminded of what is really in question here: widespread diseases, according to APU nursing professor Connie Brehm.

Dr. Brehm shares a powerful, yet helpful reminder: “I believe in keeping the public healthy; I have been doing so as an RN for over 45 years. I feel as though these anti-vaccination people haven’t seen the diseases that I have seen in my career. If they had, they wouldn’t likely be as vocal.”

APU's storage facility of vaccines.

APU’s storage facility of vaccines.

Brehm continued on about her extensive career, while continually alluding to the possibility of outbreaks, similar to

that of the recent Measles outbreak, returning soon if the percentage of vaccinated public continues to decrease. “In a place like Southern California there is a significant number of people immigrated from foreign countries…these immigrants may bring in outside viruses and can put the general public at risk. A less-immunized public will make this much worse.”

Adding to Brehm’s words, is Dr. James Ito, the Chief of Infectious Disease at City of Hope, who has spent well over 30 years working with vaccinations. Dr. Ito parallels many of Brehm’s ideas and added, “I strongly believe that all eligible children should receive all recommended vaccinations as a major part of their health care.  The rationale is to protect both the child and the general public from preventable, devastating diseases.”

Ito continued on, “The major risk is that the unvaccinated child is at risk for infections that could result in majority morbidity and death.  The other major risk is that the unvaccinated child could serve as a vector/transmitter of infection to others not protected (such as the immunocompromised child who cannot be vaccinated as well as those whose immunity has waned after being vaccinated).”

Their cohesive thinking seems to tell the same, logical story. This bill, they say, will keep the public safe from potentially detrimental effects. But is SB 277 really just about vaccinations? A growing number of people say are saying that this is not the case.

In the case of human rights organization “,” SB 277 really has not much to do with being anti-vaccination, and has everything to do with violating human rights.

Michael Ramey, the Communications and Research for, took time to say the following: “ opposes SB277 because it would violate the fundamental right of parents to direct the upbringing, education, and care of their children. Under this bill, parents who believe vaccines are not in their child’s best medical interest and who believe that public or private schools are in their child’s best educational interests will be forced to choose. The government had no just authority to force any person to choose between immutable, fundamental rights such as those of health and education. To put it simply, SB 277 violates the constitutional rights of parents under the U.S. and California constitutions.”

Another leading cause against SB 277 is the Pacific Justice Institute, which said in a statement,  “without question vaccines have been credited with saving millions of lives over the past century. We are not anti-vaccine.” However, they continue, “Our opposition is borne of the conviction that rights of conscious, bodily-integrity and self-determination are of the utmost importance and must not be eliminated.”

These organizations are basing their entire argument and opposition campaigns with the idea of human rights in mind. They stand by the fact that SB 277 intentionally and adamantly violates their rights as parents to choose how they raise their kids.

Even with so many people split in viewpoints, the California Senate still has a decision to make. Phase one of this process is done and in the books as the Senate Education Committee passed SB 277 with a 7-2 vote. However, the bill still has an extensive, grueling process before it becomes law.

Upon passage from the Senate Education Committee, SB 277 has several more deadlines to meet. It now heads to the Senate Fiscal Committee to discuss financial points. Following that, SB 277 will be heard by the Senate Floor, in which it must pass by the June 5th deadline with at least 21 votes. The bill then heads to a hearing in the Policy Committee, which then sends it to the General Assembly. Upon arriving in the General Assembly, the bill has to pass by the September 11th deadline with at least 41 votes in its favor.

During the various hearings and voting periods, the Senate will hear consistent arguments from boths sides of the topic. This includes points from the very organizations mentioned in this article. And as the arguing continues, it is safe to say that one main point of contention has risen above the rest: Are human rights really the most important thing to consider with such an important topic?

After challenging Dr. Brehm with the words of the opposition, she focused in on a point that may be the most profound yet. She said, “ As a Public Health Nurse, I look not only at the medicine but at the people that it affects. I understand human rights and in almost every case I support them. People do have individual rights, but they do not have the individual right to make other people sick.” Brehm followed up that point by saying that in the United States, if a person infected with Tuberculosis refuses to take their medication, they are arrested and quarantined. This has nothing to do with stripping that person of their individual rights but more-so with keeping the public safe from preventable diseases.

In the end, that will be the exact decision that the California Senate will need to make. Do they as policymakers honor the strict constitutional interpretation on the matter and allow people the right to refuse immunization? Or do they listen to the medical community that is afraid that their work over the last decades will be undone?

That decision remains unclear at the moment, but the next few months may just be the most important that the State Senators will face during their time in office.


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