California’s governor signed a first-of-its-kind bill late last week, dramatically limiting — if not completely erasing — exemptions to the state’s mandatory vaccination law for children.
Some California residents, however, who say that the bill represents a shocking governmental overreach that threatens their personal autonomy, are pushing to have the law included on the November ballot.
NBC News reports that California Governor Gavin Newsom signed a package of bills designed to “crack down on doctors who write fraudulent medical exemptions for school children’s vaccinations,” in order to re-establish California’s falling childhood vaccination rate, which has given rise to a number of outbreaks of preventable diseases — including the measles — over the last several years.
“This legislation provides new tools to better protect public health, and does so in a way that ensures parents, doctors, public health officials and school administrators all know the rules of the road moving forward,” Newsom wrote in a statement to press accompanying the bill.
California already outlaws non-medical exemptions for vaccinations but lawmakers say parents who claim to be skeptical about the number and necessity of childhood vaccinations are obtaining fraudulent doctors’ notes, allowing their children to attend school without being fully vaccinated, even though they aren’t actually medically fragile.
CNN reports that California’s vaccination rates have fallen dramatically over the course of the last decade, particularly in largely white, upper-middle-class enclaves where an anti-vaccination movement has taken root. The decision to require children to be immunized against specific diseases in order to attend school in the state has slowed the trend somewhat, but lawmakers feel making doctors who collude with patients who want to avoid vaccination, but aren’t actually medically fragile, responsible will stem the tide further.
“Under the new laws,” CNN reports, “the state will issue a standardized medical exemption certification form for doctors to complete and send to a child’s school. The form would outline the details of the exemption and include information about the medical basis for the exemption.”
Doctors who “grant five or more exemptions in a year” could find themselves subject to a state investigation, as could school districts where vaccination rates fall below 95% — the lowest rate necessary to preserve herd immunity and protect medically fragile children who legitimately cannot be vaccinated.
The bills are likely to go into effect January 1, 2020, but some anti-vaccination activists say they’re going to push for the measure to be included on the November ballot, because they believe punishing doctors who give false cover to anti-vaccine parents is a huge government overreach. Opposition to the bill has been strong, and anti-vaccine parents have hosted large protests at the California state capital building, calling in reinforcements from across the country in order to help preserve their ability to leave their children unvaccinated.
In one particularly disturbing incident, protesters threw what appeared to be menstrual blood on legislators headed to a vote.
Three protesters, who all consider themselves members of an anti-vaccine movement, have submitted a request to put the issue to a referendum, which would force the state to defend the measure at the ballot box, according to the Sacramento Bee, which has followed the controversy surrounding the vaccine bill closely.
“Documents released by the Attorney General’s Office say the petition was submitted by Denise Aguilar, Heidi Munoz Gleisner and Tara Thornton. It was sent from a postal office near the Capitol,” the Sac Bee reports. “Aguilar, Munoz Gleisner and Thornton protested the vaccine bill throughout August and September. They temporarily shut down an Aug. 30 Assembly Appropriations Committee hearing where they stood on chairs and chanted after lawmakers advanced the bill.”
The legislator who drafted the bill says he’ll oppose the referendum measure.