Protecting children’s health is a compelling government interest that justifies California’s new law to no longer exempt children from being vaccinated for religious beliefs or personal reasons. Overbearing parents should put their beliefs to the side and appreciate the effort California is making to protect their children’s health.
Currently, parents are able to cite personal beliefs and religious objections to exempt their children from immunization requirements in private or public schools (K-12) and day cares. However, beginning July 1, 2016, Senate Bill 277 (SB 277) will no longer allow schools to enroll a student up to seventh grade without being vaccinated regardless, of religious or personal beliefs.
SB 277 will still accept medical circumstances for a child in school not to be vaccinated as long as the parents present a written statement from a licensed physician. If a physician indicates that a vaccine could potentially harm the child because of the child’s family medical history, that child would be admitted into school without a vaccination.
Medical exemptions should ease the minds of worried parents who are leery of certain vaccinations because of their child’s medical record.
This bill is not as intimidating as opponents make it seem. It is the school’s responsibility to ensure a healthy learning environment for its students.
However, people who are against the bill, such as the California Coalition for Vaccine Choice, claim this law infringes on their religious liberty.
Luckily, this isn’t the first time that public health statutes have come up against opposition, and that means there’s precedence.
On Jan. 1, 1944, Justice Wiley B. Rutledge delivered the majority opinion in the case Prince v. Massachusetts, and claimed that the government has the power to regulate the children’s treatment, regardless of the parents’ religious beliefs.
“Thus, (a legal guardian) cannot claim freedom from compulsory vaccination for the child more than for himself on religious grounds,” reads the court opinion. “The right to practice religion freely does not include liberty to expose the community or the child to communicable disease or the latter to ill health or death.”
One parent’s skepticism toward vaccinations may be costly for the entire school population.
Protecting children’s well-being is a top priority for the government, especially with the rise of diseases such as pertussis, also known as whooping cough, in California.
In 2014, a total of 11,219 whooping cough cases were reported, the most in the last decade. There were also 75 reported cases of the measles, according to the California Department of Public Health.
Parents against the measure are worried about the government having too much power over their children’s health, but they fail to show any other alternatives. The rise in cases of measles show that parents lack the power to protect their children from every harmful disease. The only thing they do control is the vaccinations their children receive and whether or not they take them to the doctor.
Surely children are not enthusiastic about getting poked in the arm with a needle, nor are they excited to take exams or learn long division, but they have to put their misery aside. Just as students must trust their educators, parents must trust the medical professionals who have revolutionized the world of medicine to help eradicate diseases.
Society can only improve if its members work together. Students receive their education to become well-rounded citizens. Parents and schools work together to provide a healthy atmosphere in which every student can prosper.
With a population of more than 38.5 million, it’s no wonder that the state government is taking new measures to prevent epidemics, especially in its schools.
In 1997, California stepped up to the plate to prevent hepatitis B from spreading by mandating hepatitis B vaccines for children in day care and elementary school, and then later for middle school children in 1999.
There were 108 reported cases of hepatitis B last year, according to the California Department of Public Health.
California is one of at least 12 states to consider reforming their vaccine-exemption legislation this year, but issues regarding the state’s power to enact vaccination procedures has become transhistorical.
In 1902, during the outbreak of smallpox, a Swedish man by the name of Henning Jacobson refused to be vaccinated and took his case to Supreme Court. In 1905 Jacobson v. Massachusetts, Justice John M. Harlan delivered an opinion that said states have the authority to require vaccinations.
“While we do not decide and cannot decide that vaccination is a preventive of smallpox, we take judicial notice of the fact that this is the common belief of the people of the State, and with this fact as a foundation we hold that the statute in question is a health law, enacted in a reasonable and proper exercise of the police power,” Harlan said.
Families may hold their religious views as they wish, but it is for the good of their children and public schools that they follow the new vaccination mandates.