California’s governor signs a law that makes parents vaccinate their kids—regardless of their personal beliefs

Fear of needles is not an excuse.
Fear of needles is not an excuse.
Image: Reuters/Lucy Nicholson
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California is now officially anti-anti-vaxxer. Today, governor Jerry Brown signed a strict new law requiring almost all parents to vaccinate their children before they can attend daycare, public school, or private school, regardless of their religious or personal beliefs.

The bill comes after a December 2014 outbreak of measles, a highly contagious virus, at Disneyland in southern California. An unvaccinated California woman kicked off the epidemic, which eventually infected some 131 Californians, and a slew of people in other states. Of the 81 California patients whose immunization status was known, 70% had never been immunized.

With its new law, California will join West Virginia and Mississippi as the only US states that require immunization regardless of parents’ religious or personal beliefs, according to the National Conference of State Legislatures. One exception in the California bill: a physician-approved exemption due to medical conditions such as allergies and immune-system deficiencies. Unvaccinated children could also be home-schooled.

Image for article titled California’s governor signs a law that makes parents vaccinate their kids—regardless of their personal beliefs
Image: National Conference of State Legislatures

While all US states mandate that public-school students be vaccinated, 48 states now grant parents exemptions from vaccinating their children if their religious beliefs forbid immunization. Another 19 exempt children of parents who philosophically object to vaccines.

After clean water, vaccines have improved health more than any any other medical advancement in history, according to the World Health Organization. Since introducing vaccinations, the US has largely stamped out measles and a slew of other insidious diseases that in particular can be devastating to children. However, the recent emergence of the “anti-vaxxer” movement, which objects to immunizations on the basis of specious claims that vaccines cause autism and other harm to children, is threatening to reverse those successes.

Last year, the US experienced 23 outbreaks, including one that sickened 383 people (most of them Amish and living in Ohio)—for a total of 668 cases. As of late May, health authorities have recorded 173 measles cases. Whooping cough (a.k.a. pertussis) is making a big comeback, too.

This is an update to a post that was initially published on June 25.