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The Tyranny of California's No-Exemptions Vaccine Bill

A bill mandating vaccines—no personal belief exemptions— is moving through the California state senate and on the cusp of passage any day now. You might not live in or even close to California, but this bill should concern you.

It should concern all of us.

The bi-partiansian SB277 would require all school children in California to be vaccinated before they enter Kindergarten. Only two other states, Mississippi and West Virginia, have similar laws on the books. The measure would effectively eliminate any personal or religious belief exemptions from vaccinations, leaving medical reasons as the only legal avenue for opting out.

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Full disclosure: I am on Team Vaccine, 100 percent. My three children have been vaccinated on schedule and without delays. My middle child was prevented from having any live virus vaccinations (the rotavirus vaccination specifically), as his sister was immunocompromised during her cancer treatment. And, yes, being the mother of an immunosuppressed child who has since died as a result of her cancer diagnosis makes me very, very passionate about the importance of vaccinating our children.

For me, vaccinating is something of a required toll for living in a larger society. It is the price we pay, not unlike a personal tax, for living in community with all sorts of individuals, some of whom will never be able to vaccinate or inoculate themselves because of medical restrictions. Those most vulnerable fellow citizens rely on the rest of us to do the vaccinating for them. Their lives and well-being depend on the obligations and responsibilities felt by other citizens— neighbors, classmates, anyone they come in contact with.

Are there risks to vaccinations? Yes, I believe there are. These complications from these risks are not common, and I firmly do not believe those risks include autism as the science shows. But I do believe that with any medical procedure, there is a certain degree of risk involved. Should that minimal risk be enough of a reason to opt out of vaccines as a means of protecting your child or keeping them "pure," as I have heard it referred to by many parents who oppose vaccines?

NO. And yet.

Despite my strong personal belief in the importance of vaccinations in children, I still remain concerned with the idea of legislating and mandating vaccine compliance. It alarms me, actually.

In the 10 years I have been parenting, which happens to have coincided with the rise and development of social media, I am more and more exposed to the reasoning and rationale of friends and family who opt out of vaccinating. They, like me, point to science as a justification for validating their choices. They, for years, have been victim to what I considered fear-mongering in the alarmist media—the threat of mandated vaccine compliance. And for years, I have shaken my head and thought to myself, "Tsk, tsk. These poor folks actually think they would be forced to vaccinate by our government."

Well, it looks as if we are there.

While I strongly agree with the need for, and science behind, vaccines, I strongly disagree in the practice of legislating and mandating vaccine compliance. In good conscience, how can I rail against the idea of legislators more and more frequently injecting their religious and political beliefs onto my uterus, while at the same time, turning my head or supporting those same legislators as they inject vaccines into unwilling and fearful children and families?

My rationale is a leap, as certainly one individual's right to birth control or abortion in no way impacts those in community with her, as not vaccinating surely and definitively does, but the common denominator cannot be denied: elected officials legislating and mandating our bodies.

We must find other ways.

I don't know what those ways are. I am not naïve enough to suggest education or public health campaigns are enough to accomplish this goal. Like climate change, it appears that all the science in the world is not enough to convince some people. I simply don't know. And that terrifies me.

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It is apparent, more and more, that this valuing of me and us and ours over the collective world and communities we live in comes at a cost. I will take care of my own, we will do what is best for us. This is our modern mantra in parenting, as well as life. That thinking comes at an expense not yet fully understood, its ramifications still unknown.

The recent outbreak of measles seen in Disneyland, the event which sparked the passage of SB277, is one of those costs. But we cannot legislate that mentality of willful disregard for the larger community and the greater good away. That false belief that the solution would be so easy as a law passed is misplaced, simplistic and tyrannical.

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Video image KPIX via LA Times

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