Dr. Bob Sears, Senator Richard Pan, and Dr. Jay Gordon participated in a broadcast Monday evening on a public radio station in San Francisco to discuss Senate Bill 277, legislation which would remove the personal belief exemption for public and private schools in the state of California.
Spurred by the measles outbreak in Disneyland, Dr. Richard Pan co-authored Senate Bill 277 (SB 277) to dissuade parents from enrolling under-vaccinated children in private and public schools in California. "We're hearing from parents in our district ... they are concerned about vaccine-preventable illnesses that were previously essentially not in the general community," the pediatrician and senator says. Pan believes that his constituents shouldn't have to worry about being exposed to vaccine-preventable diseases in public places, and that vaccine legislation should begin with the school systems in California. "If your child is not immunized and there is not a medical reason that your child is not immunized, he should be," he says.
Pan blames anti-vaccine groups for spreading "misinformation" that has contributed to a rising rate of parents who do not fully vaccinate their children according to the American Academy of Pediatrics' suggested immunization schedule. The senator had previously enacted a bill which requires parents to discuss vaccine decisions with a healthcare provider prior to being granted the personal belief exemption in California, and it has increased vaccine rates in the state significantly. Dr. Pan now suggests that even more must be done to protect the public health, in light of both measles and whooping cough outbreaks in recent years.
Many Americans believe that the side effects of vaccines are cause for concern, however, and that parents should have the right to refuse to give them to their children. "Parents have the right to participate in every health care decision regarding their children - there can't be any question about that. The idea of removing the rights of parents to participate is just abhorrent," Dr. Jay Gordon says. The pediatrician believes that as with any medical treatment, parents should be given sufficient information to make an informed decision. "If we have a good product, whether it's a healthcare product or a vaccination, inform parents - inform the consumer - and let them make choices," he says.
Dr. Gordon believes that Senator Pan has misrepresented the reason for the whooping cough outbreaks in California. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has made it clear that these outbreaks have occurred because the whooping cough vaccine wears off after a few years, and not because parents have declined to vaccinate their children.
The recent measles outbreak was a wakeup call for those who thought that vaccine preventable diseases no longer exist, and many of Dr. Gordon's patients who had previously declined the Measles, Mumps, and Rubella (MMR) shot opted to vaccinate their children in light of it.
"When we coerce people, they run away," Dr. Gordon warns - "We should talk to them, we should earn their trust, we should understand that they are intelligent enough to talk to us doctors. We shouldn't mandate and legislate vaccine decisions."
Proponents of the legislation say that pockets of unvaccinated people put others in harm's way because the immunocompromised rely on the immunity of others around them. Because no vaccine is 100% effective, those who have been vaccinated are potentially still at-risk for contracting a disease. It is believed that in such cases, having had the vaccine should reduce the severity and duration of a person's illness.
Physician Assistant Michael De Rosa believes that people may have been misled by terminology used by the CDC to suggest that the measles had been "eradicated" in the United States, since there have been cases reported in the U.S. every year. Parents should recognize that travelers abroad can bring diseases back to America, he says. In spite of this, the incidence rate for measles in the United States is very low.
The recent outbreak of measles resulted in what Dr. Gordon calls a fear-mongering agenda in the media to push mandatory vaccinations. "It's not the right way to go about this. It's not scientifically sound ... if you've got the facts, present the facts," he says - "Somebody attempting to scare you out of getting the MMR is wrong, just as Dr. Pan and others trying to scare you into getting the vaccine are incorrect."
Because the measles vaccine is so effective, Dr. Gordon believes that it will sell to parents. "If we believe in that product, we should sell it with good information rather than with coercion," he says. Parents who are not comfortable getting six vaccines at once might be comfortable spacing them out throughout their child's life. The end results, he says, are fully vaccinated children.
De Rosa advocates that certain freedoms should be restricted for the common good, citing things like seat belts, speed limits, and fences around swimming pools.
"Vaccines, unlike seatbelts and unlike fences around pools, are not unequivocally risk-free medical interventions. The government acknowledges that there are risks, they've paid out billions of dollars acknowledging there are risks," Dr. Gordon counters.
Dr. Bob Benjamin, Deputy Health Officer for Marin County, says that the possible adverse side effects of vaccines are rarer than the diseases themselves. He laments that a significant amount of money has been spent trying to prove that vaccines don't cause autism when it should have instead been used to determine what the causes of autism are.
While Dr. Gordon says that there has not been sufficient evidence to support that they cause autism, vaccines do have medical side effects. "For whatever benefits they may carry, parents have the right to look at the benefits and the risks and to make a choice for their own children," he says - "The more you know about vaccinations, the more you are likely to examine the [AAP recommended vaccine] schedule ... I don't think that highly educated and highly informed parents choose not to vaccinate. I think they choose to vaccinate perhaps in different ways."
Dr. Bob Sears, author of "The Vaccine Book," is concerned about the practical implications of SB 277. The way that the bill is currently worded could potentially affect even homeschooling families, since they are required to register with a public or private school. Homeschooling parents of under-vaccinated children could be in violation of the law and face truancy charges if they were unable to register with a nearby school. Many parents are worried that if this legislation were passed, they could potentially lose custody of their children if they aren't legally registered to homeschool and have not been fully vaccinated.
Dr. Gordon argues that there is nothing scientific about taking the decision of whether to vaccinate out of a parent's hands. "The focus of SB277 is taking away a parent's right to make choices," he says adamantly - "Science supports the idea that parents who are informed will make an informed decision."