California Vaccination Law Reform

​​​​​Vaccination rights seem to be a constant presence in today’s media. Those that oppose vaccinations cite that it is their parental right to make medical decisions​ for their children. This group tends to be parents who believe the vaccinations administered to their young children impacted the child’s health negatively. A familiar claim is that the parents noticed signs of autism in their children after the vaccination was administered, or the vaccinated individual contracted the disease even after full vaccination was provided. Supporters of mandatory vaccination believe that it is a societal obligation to prevent at risk individuals from serious illness or death by requiring children to be vaccinated.  At risk individuals include children, pregnant women, seniors, people with cancer, organ transplants, and other conditions.

Recent laws in California have sought to make vaccinations mandatory for groups of citizens. Legislators introduced these bills after a measles outbreak at Disneyland in December 2014 infected over one hundred people in both the United States and Mexico. SB 792 would require California day care center volunteers and workers to be vaccinated against pertussis, flu, and measles. Some children enrolled in day care may not be fully vaccinated, so authors of the bill think it is imperative for day care workers to have their immunizations up to date. A separate bill, SB 277, would require a vaccination to be administered to school aged children across the state for measles and whooping cough. The author of this law, Senator Richard Pan, a pediatrician, believes the law mandating vaccinations will protect children and their classmates in school from contracting preventable communicable diseases.

Those in support of the mandatory vaccination bills, such as San D​iego Democratic Assembly woman Lorena Gonzalez​, understand the viewpoint of parents choosing whether to vaccinate their children, but believe that this belief must be balanced against the risks unvaccinated children pose to others.  Dr. Catherine Forest, medical director of Stanford Health Care Clinic​ in Los Altos, stated the mandatory vaccination is not a question of personal choice, but rather an obligation to society. Supporters of the mandatory vaccination bill see this as a preventable health risk to people who may be susceptible to contagious diseases, such as measles, pertussis, etc. Those in opposition to the mandatory vaccination laws state that the primary reason for their resistance is not the aspect of the vaccination itself, but rather the fact that parents no longer have a voice in choosing whether or not to vaccinate their children. At demonstrations against the mandatory vaccination bills, protestors, generally consisting of mothers and their children, chant “mandate is not consent”.

California Governor Jerry Brown has signed the mandatory vaccination laws, which will take effect in 2016. The mandates are written so more vaccines can be added​ at any time.  Opponents of the bill believe that this is to ensure pharmaceutical companies’ best interests. Supporters are more optimistic that the openness of the mandate will allow legislators to act in the public’s best interest by requiring the vaccination of preventable diseases. With the implementation of this legislation, California will join Mississippi and West Virginia as the only states to have strict vaccination requirements. ​ 

Kate Reynolds is currently a 2L at DePaul University College of Law. Ms. Reynolds completed her undergraduate degree at the University of Illinois Springfield. Ms. Reynolds wishes to pursue a career in Health Law after graduating in May of 2017.​