Photos by Keeley Smith.
Parents from across Southern California gathered on Pine Avenue in Long Beach today in a targeted move to gain Assemblymember Patrick O’Donnell’s attention on SB277, a bill that would prohibit public and private schools and daycares from admitting unvaccinated students, providing exemptions only for those with medical conditions.
Demonstrators lined up in front of The Federal Bar on Pine Street, calling on O’Donnell, chair of the State Assembly’s Education Committee, to address their views in an education hearing. They cited unequal access to education for students whose parents opt out of mandated vaccinations, as the personal belief exemption is eliminated.
“If I homeschool my son, how do I address socialization goals in his IEP [Individualized Education Plan]?” said Rebecca Estepp of the California Coalition for Health Choice. “SB277 ends up being a discriminatory bill that violates education guaranteed under the constitution.”
SB277 states that its rules do not apply to students who follow independent study programs or are home-schooled.
Representatives from O’Donnell’s office declined to comment at this point in time, but said O’Donnell would be meeting with the protesters to hear their thoughts at his district office today.
The origin of SB277 and the group’s protest come after at least one Long Beach resident contracted the measles last January in a measles outbreak originating at Disneyland.
Since January 1, 169 people in 21 states contracted the measles, according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC). About 68 percent of these individuals (117 total) were a part of the outbreak linked to the exposure to measles at Disneyland.
“My father has polio,” said SB277’s co-sponsor Senator Ben Allen (D-South Bay and Westside LA). “His generation can’t believe we’re allowing diseases back into [the country]. Unless we shut down airports, we’re still at risk.” Dr. Richard Pan, a senator for Sacramento, introduced the bill with Allen.
Allen, a former Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School board member, and the rallying parents acknowledged the recent outbreaks’ link to the Philippines (the strain was identical to that of a recent outbreak in the Philippines, according to the CDC), and links from other outbreaks to foreign countries where vaccines are not routinely implemented.
Allen pointed to the role of science and technology in preventing future outbreaks. “We’ve got tools, we know they work,” he said, noting SB277 has a “strong medical exemption” for children who are genetically predisposed to vaccine reactions.
“In fact, those are the people who will benefit from this bill,” Allen said.
Parents at the rally pointed to feelings of prejudice and misunderstanding among government officials.
Melissa Alsop, a mother of three who lives in Orange County, described her sister-in-law’s severe reaction to a Measles, Mumps and Rubella (MMR) and a Diptheria, Pertussis and Tetanus (DPT) vaccine at the age of 18 months. She said her sister-in-law experienced a 106 degree fever and immediate screaming. Currently the age of 27, she's been brain damaged ever since and in constant need of a caretaker, a situation Alsop said demonstrated the dangers of mandating vaccinations for everyone.
“This bill doesn’t improve public health,” Alsop said. “You can remove it from schools, but it will still be a part of society.”
Melissa Floyd, a data analyst for the California Coalition for Health Choice, said previous laws minimizing existing exemptions are already working. She said the number of exemptions decreased 19 percent since last year.
Floyd said her daughter experienced seizures as a two-month-old and later, as a one-year-old, when the family took her to a regularly scheduled vaccination appointment.
“[This bill] takes away the right to make individualized decisions,” Floyd, who also lives in Orange County, said. “This is everyone’s problem—it’s not a niche issue.”
Allen agreed in some respects with Floyd, acknowledging that vaccinations have the potential to harm about “one in a million” people.
“I’ve stayed off of bills I thought went too far in infringing upon personal choices,” Allen said. “In this case, the only reason I [sponsored it] was because I found compelling the broader public health imperative at play.”
According to a January Washington Post story, personal belief exemptions grew from 0.77 percent in 2000 to 3.15 percent in 2013, and back to 2.5 percent in 2014 after the state required parents to consult a health care professional before using the exemption. A map of certain regions of the state shows up to five percent of kindergarteners using the personal belief exemption. According to the Bloomberg data team, California is ranked 39th for number of vaccinated children in the state.
Allen compared the one in every million people vaccinated who is harmed to the one in every 1,000 individuals who die of of the measles worldwide—or the one in 10 who die of the measles in developing countries.
“We still had an outbreak, even with new rules,” said Allen. “Do we wait for one kid to die of disease?”
This article was updated on 06/5/15 at 6:42AM and 16:06PM, and 07/01/15 at 21:23PM correcting the age of Melissa Alsop's sister-in-law when she experienced a reaction to a vaccine, and the spelling of Estepp and Floyd's names.