It’s the Law – My Response to Sarah Mazerik

I want to thank Sarah Mazerik for her thoughtful response to my July 2, commentary (It’s the Law), regarding the recent California law requiring that most children attending public or private school be immunized against contagious diseases. Mrs. Mazerik is an admirable example of a concerned and responsible citizen/parent doing their due diligence regarding an issue that can affect both her child and others.

I also apologize to readers for my incorrect assumption based solely on the photo and caption by the New York Times. I will strive to be more diligent in the future.

sb277-opposition

In a follow-up commentary last Friday (It’s the Law – Rebuttal) Mrs. Mazerik writes, “…the question we should be debating is: ‘Should the State be given the power to make this decision for us?’ ”

It’s a great question, and one I would generally agree with; however, not everything in a democratic society should be left to a vote by the majority.

There is a new and growing concern about the use of drones – unmanned, aerial vehicles – flying in and around airports, military facilities, sports stadiums and other public venues. (A private drone recently crashed in some unoccupied seats at the U.S. Tennis Center in New York.)

“Pilot reports of unmanned aircraft have increased dramatically over the past year,” the FAA writes (Aug. 12), “from a total of 238 sightings in all of 2014, to more than 650 by August 9 of this year…

“…firefighters battling wildfire blazes in the western part of the country have been forced to ground their operations on several occasions for safety reasons when they spotted one or more unmanned aircraft in their immediate vicinity.

“The FAA wants to send out a clear message that operating drones around airplanes and helicopters is dangerous and illegal.”

While you can argue personal rights versus public safety, I think most people would agree that the FAA’s unilateral action was taken for the best interests of public safety.

The College of Physicians of Philadelphia’s website offers an extraordinary reference for anyone interested in The History of Vaccines.

In 1792, as a result of an outbreak of deadly smallpox, “the Commonwealth of Virginia passed an act to consolidate previously passed acts regulating smallpox inoculation into one. The new act included a penalty of $1,500 or six months’ imprisonment for anyone willfully spreading smallpox in a manner other than specified by the act.”

$1,500 or six months imprisonment… in 1792! That’s how serious the issue of inoculation was in the state of Virginia, barely 4 years after the U.S. Constitution was ratified.

In 1922, “United States schools required smallpox vaccination before children could attend. Some students and their families, however, sought the help of the courts to avoid the requirement. One such case was considered by the U.S. Supreme Court, when Rosalyn Zucht, a student from San Antonio, Texas, was excluded from a public school for failure to present proof of vaccination.

“The complaint alleged that the city ordinances requiring vaccination to attend public school violated the due process and equal protection clauses of the Fourteenth Amendment. The court dismissed the writ of error that brought the case to them, stating that the constitutional question presented was not substantial in character, and citing previous cases which had determined that a city ordinance was a law of the state—and that it was ‘within the police power of a state to provide for compulsory vaccination.’ ”

Mrs. Mazerik writes: “I can’t stand how both sides are always blathering on about how ‘the science is in.’ The science is never in. It’s always adapting and evolving. It is a target in constant motion.”

I agree. I also recognize that nothing is 100 percent safe, 100 percent of the time.

Nevertheless, measles is a serious and highly contagious viral disease. Mumps and Rubella are also contagious. So, we’re not just talking about the health and welfare of a single child or family of children, but the unknown number of children an unvaccinated child would come in contact with if they attended school.

Prior to its passage, AB 277 received broad support in the medical community, including:

The American Academy of Family Physicians
American Academy of Pediatrics
American Lung Association
California Association of Nurse Practitioners
California Chapter of the American College of Emergency Physicians
California Children’s Hospital Association
California Coverage and Health Initiatives
California Immunization Coalition
California Medical Association
California Optometric Association
California School Nurses Organization
California State Parent-Teacher Association
Children Now
Children’s Defense Fund California
Children’s Specialty Care Coalition
County of Los Angeles
County of Santa Cruz
Health Officers Association of California
Insurance Commissioner Dave Jones
Kaiser Permanente
March of Dimes California Chapter
Providence Health and Services Southern California
San Francisco Unified School District
Secular Coalition for California
Silicon Valley Leadership Group
Solano Beach School District
The Children’s Partnership

That’s a pretty credible group of medical professionals. The website, vaccines.procon.org offers a lot of good information with more than 113 links to facts and sources.

In March, 2014, in its Room for Debate column, The New York Times offered several opinions around the question: Given the Measles Outbreak, Should Vaccinations Be Mandatory? Former U.S. Surgeon General Joyceyln Elders’ opinion is based on personal experience.

“When I was director of the Arkansas Department of Health in the 1980s,” Elders writes, “I had to personally approve any parent’s application for a religious exemption from immunizing their children. I recall that there were fewer than 100 a year. They usually came from a particular church. Their pastor would send a letter explaining the request.

“It was a very small group and they had their beliefs, so I didn’t feel it was cheating the other children. We’d sometimes have tiny outbreaks of measles or other diseases, but it was rare and it didn’t happen at a greater rate than in other groups. So, religious exemptions to immunization should not be a problem.

“But broader exemptions are. I was a pediatrician, so I immunized lots of babies. If any parent didn’t want to do it, I felt it was my responsibility to convince them why it needed to be done. We have 95 percent or more immunized because parents took the responsibility to get it done.

“When you choose not to have your child immunized,” Elders says, “you’re cheating other kids. Their vaccinations protect your child. Not getting a child immunized is child abuse, even if you’re not using a strap.

“The only exemption from immunization should be for religious reasons. If you feel that strongly that immunization is not a good idea, then don’t send your kids to school. Don’t make other children, or your child, suffer.”

In signing the bill, California Governor Jerry Brown said in a statement, “The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases. While it’s true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”

The health and safety of the community is what the State is addressing here.

However, Brown adds, “The Legislature… specifically amended SB 277, to exempt a child from immunization wherever the child’s physician concludes that there are ‘circumstances, including but not limited to, family medical history, for which the physician does not recommend immunization…’

“Thus,” Brown concludes, “while requiring that school children be vaccinated, explicitly provides an exception when a physician believes that circumstances – in the judgment and sound discretion of the physician – so warrant.”

When considering the health and safety of the citizenry, I believe the State has a duty to act in the best interests of the whole.

At the end of her response, Mrs. Mazerik writes, “I want facts, not scare tactics. In the end, I read as much as I could and though I’m not a doctor or a bureaucrat, I felt I had a good enough grasp on the facts to make an educated decision to vaccinate my daughter.”

In this highly charged, issue-laden world where so many concerns become politicized, this is one issue that should not be subject to political debate. It’s strictly about the best-available research and the best interests of the community.

Given the choice between parental rights and the health and safety of the community, I side with the responsible protection of the community.

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