Thousands of Californians, many of them wealthy, were dealt a heavy blow this week when lethal injections were made legal by the highest authorities. They, at least, think the injections could be lethal and no, this is not about the U.S. Supreme Court okaying three-drug concoctions for executing Death Row prisoners.
The law, which also covers daycare centers and private schools, takes effect in the 2016-17 school year and applies to kindergartners and seventh-graders. So this year’s eighth-graders will graduate unaffected by the law and second-graders can skate for five years.
A small number of children can't receive vaccinations for medical reasons. Some parents oppose vaccinations for religious reasons, and others because they distrust government-mandated health solutions. Some risk-aversive folks find injections of most any kind dangerous, even life-threatening, and something to be avoided.
But the anti-vax movement has its greatest support from parents who have bought into the argument that a component of the vaccine causes autism. The overwhelming scientific consensus is that there is no connection between the two. Many of the parents are wealthy.
A rare signing message from Governor Brown addressed those with concerns about autism, a vocal group of which almost killed the bill in April. He said:
“The science is clear that vaccines dramatically protect children against a number of infectious and dangerous diseases. While it is true that no medical intervention is without risk, the evidence shows that immunization powerfully benefits and protects the community.”
The California Department of Public Health (CDPH) says 90.4% (pdf) of kindergartners this past school year received all their shots, down from 92.8% (pdf) in 2005. That’s not good. In general, when the vaccination rate in a given population falls below 95%, the public at large loses herd immunity.
The legislation will not reverse, overnight, the lax California policy on vaccination exemptions spotlighted by the Disney measles outbreak last December that went national. It will almost certainly face legal challenges, not the least of which might be one from the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU). The group has questioned whether the law violates the state Constitution’s guarantee of a public education to all residents.
It could also face a challenge at the ballot box in a referendum, but that could be an uphill fight. A survey (pdf) from the Public Policy Institute of California in May found that 67% of Californians and 65% of public school parents want mandatory vaccinations for school children.