California Lawmakers Want to Pass Bill Limiting Measles Vaccine Exemptions; Some Christians Debate Reasons on Getting Vaccinated

( [email protected] ) Feb 05, 2015 05:48 PM EST
Nga Ngyen, 7, gets an influenza vaccine injection from nurse Maya Kahn-Woods during a flu shot clinic at Dorchester House, a health care clinic, in Boston, Massachusetts, January 12, 2013. Photo: Brian Snyder/Reuters

Thanks to a measles outbreak that is afflicting people all across the United States, a debate has risen in California on whether or not the amount of vaccine exemptions should be limited.

According to Anna Edney and Michael B. Marois of Bloomberg, two state senators in Sacramento introduced a bill that would eliminate a 1976 law that allows parents to opt of vaccinating their children for personal reasons. California Gov. Jerry Brown already signed a law back in 2012 that requires anyone requesting such an exemption to consult with a health-care worker first about vaccines and diseases.

"The Governor believes that vaccinations are profoundly important and a major public health benefit and any bill that reaches his desk will be closely considered," Evan Westrup, a spokesman for Brown, said in an e-mail to Bloomberg Wednesday.

The bill is being introduced by state Sens. Richard Pan (D-Sacramento), a pediatrician, and Ben Allen (D-Santa Monica), an educator. Bloomberg reported that Pan expressed concern over California's vaccination trends.

"I've personally witnessed the suffering caused by these preventable diseases and I am very grateful to the many parents that are now speaking up and letting us know that our current laws don't protect their kids," Pan said in a statement.

California's law on vaccines currently permits parents to send their children to school regardless of whether or not they have all their immunizations. Bloomberg reported that the proposal introduced by Pan and Allen would still honor medical and religious exemptions.

Lydia O'Connor of the Huffington Post reported that under the proposal, parents can only request exemptions in cases where physical or medical conditions would prevent their children from getting vaccinated.  

"Immunization of a person shall be required for admission to a school or institution ... unless the child has a physical condition or medical circumstances that contraindicate vaccination as prescribed in Section 120370," the measure stated.

According to O'Connor, the bill would also require schools to notify parents of institutional vaccination rates.

John D. Sutter wrote an opinion article for CNN, citing statistics that based on vaccination rates provided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 99.7 percent of kindergarteners in Mississippi were vaccinated for measles, while the rate in California was only 92.3 percent.

"Those numbers are significant," Sutter wrote. "Even a very small percentage of unvaccinated kids can contribute to an outbreak, especially if they're concentrated in a single community, as is often the case in high-end, hippy-dippy California."

Sutter urged the California governor to stand up to the "anti-vaxxer crowd," noting that he had a "moral responsibility" to push for stricter vaccine policies, which Mississippi currently practices.

"Parents in California can exempt their children from life-saving vaccines because of philosophical or religious reasons," Sutter wrote. "More-religious Mississippi, meanwhile, offers neither."

Sutter added that Mississippi and West Virginia are the only two states that require parents to vaccinate their children; like the rest of the United States, however, exemptions are made for medical reasons.

"These laws cave to the anti-science, anti-vaccine movement," Sutter wrote in regards to personal exemption laws. "They create unnecessary public health risks. In California, it's relatively easy for parents to obtain exemptions based on their personal beliefs."

Sutter argued that "personal choice and fear are trumping reason in California," adding that vaccines "don't cause autism." He believed that removing those vaccine exemptions would help "save lives."

However, some Christians cite claims on the Internet that many of the most common vaccines were derived from cells that originally came from aborted fetuses, hence their refusal to get vaccinated on moral grounds. Lauren Markoe of Religion News Service contended that assertion is "flat-out wrong."

"Where these scientific arguments fail, some religious authorities say there is still a moral, Christian calculus that can lead abortion opponents to choose vaccination in good conscience," Markoe wrote.

Most within the medical and scientific community endorse the use of vaccines without hesitation, citing a 2014 study that aimed to disprove a link between autism and the measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) shot. However, according to Kirsten Andersen of Life Site News, Dr. Theresa Deisher, a Seattle-based genetic research scientist and founder of AVM Biotechnology, argued back in July 2014 that the study itself had flaws.

"The MMR all the news are talking about is from Japan and was made in animals, not aborted fetal cells. Therefore, we would not expect that study to show any link between animal based MMR and autism," Deisher said. "We only see a link between aborted fetal manufactured vaccines and autism."

According to Deisher, who claims to be a "pro-life" vaccine researcher, the study did not apply to MMR vaccines available in the United States. She even thought that scientist Andrew Wakefield's 1998 study claiming a link between rising autism rates and vaccines may have some merit; most within the medical community have harshly criticized and discredited that study.

"Each time we inject our children with one of these vaccines, we are also injecting them with residual fetal human DNA," Deisher argued.

Deisher contended that this residual human DNA, not the MMR itself, was behind the rising rates of autism. Andersen reported that FDA scientists have speculated that "residual human DNA in vaccines could trigger cancer, autoimmune diseases, and disruption of the recipient's genome," although she admitted that there was no "clear-cut peer-reviewed research on the topic."

Dr. Eugene Rudd, senior vice president of Christian Medical & Dental Associations, proclaimed that he was a "follower of Christ" and that Bible teachings inform "my thinking and my life." While his organization took a firm stance against abortion, he had no moral objections to vaccinations.

"There is a judgment here, both scientific and moral, that says vaccination is part of my obligation - civic and moral - to others," Rudd said, adding that protecting one another was "an important biblical teaching."

Karen Ernst, a vaccine advocate who leads Minnesota-based Voices for Vaccines, told Markoe that she "applauds people who are prayerful when they discover there is some connection to abortion." However, she expressed fears that the anti-vaccination movement, which is largely based on "a dangerous misunderstanding of science," could exploit those who hesitate getting vaccinated for religious reasons.

"People who are anti-vaccine are people who are very vocally anti-vaccine," Ernst said. "They want other people to be anti-vaccine, and one way they try to hook people in is to say 'if you're pro-life, you should know they are made from aborted fetuses.'"

According to Markoe, Rudd's organization created a web page for Christians who struggled with the issue of vaccination. He made the argument that not vaccinating could make one complicit in another's suffering.

"It is relevant that those who accept vaccination for themselves or their children do so without any intention of endorsing abortion," Rudd wrote. "The fact that there is a remote association with abortion does not establish moral culpability."

According to Andersen, Deisher said that parents should carefully weigh all risks and ethical considerations before making a decision in regards to vaccinating their children.

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