Personal Freedoms Protected with CA Bill AB2109
Jul 05, 2012

This week, as our country celebrated our independence, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to our personal freedoms.   These freedoms include – but are certainly not limited to – how we raise and care for our children.
In addition to protecting our freedoms, our government is also tasked with protecting us from harm.   Yet, when it comes to public health and state mandated immunization requirements, there has been a great deal of discussion regarding how these mandates may interfere with our personal freedoms.
In order to understand the role the government has in protecting us, we must ask ourselves, several questions.  Do we feel that it’s our responsibility, as a society, to do our best to protect one another?  Do we consider it a valid role of our government to ensure protection to us as citizens?   And should people who do not follow government mandates, thereby bringing injury or illness upon others, be held responsible?
I can’t help but refer to these questions in evaluating California Bill AB 2109. This bill, which is currently making it’s way through the state Senate, continues to allow students in the state to obtain personal immunization exemptions, but is seeking to add a requirement that parents speak with a licensed health professional first.
It’s clear that state immunization requirements exist to prevent dangerous and sometimes deadly diseases from spreading among a vulnerable population (children) in a public place (school) where extended hours of close contact present an ideal environment where contagious diseases can quickly and easily become a public health threat.   This is how the state works to protect us.
Unfortunately, the fact remains that there are some people who have medical contra-indications to certain vaccines.  In these cases, a child who can’t be vaccinated can receive a medical exemption.  But, these children must rely on “community immunity”, which exists when a high percentage of people in a population are effectively immunized, which thereby reduces their chances, as an unimmunized person, from falling victim to a vaccine preventable disease.  This is how we – as a society – work to protect one another.
However, there are some people who – for various reasons – don’t want to vaccinate their children.  They may feel vaccines are unnecessary because they haven’t personally witnessed these diseases.  They may believe that their child’s immune system can effectively fight off any diseases, without the need for vaccines.  They may not believe that these illnesses are dangerous, and therefore not feel the need to prevent them.   Some may even question the safety of the vaccines – recognizing that vaccines carry risk, but failing to understand the greater risks that come from the diseases we are trying to prevent.  There are even some parents who do not have the time or means to bring their child for the necessary shots.  And maybe some who would rather their child not have to deal with the pain of a needle.
Whatever their reasoning, the simple fact that personal exemptions exist in almost every state is what continues to afford people with the freedom to refuse vaccinations for their children and yet still send them to public school.
So how is it that those who oppose CA Bill AB2109 feel that their personal freedoms are being threatened?  The bill doesn’t eliminate their choice to get an exemption.   It only changes the way parents would have to file for the exemption. 
It appears that the bill seeks to eliminate the exemptions that come as a matter of convenience – from parents who find it easier to just sign an exemption form as opposed to scheduling and taking their child in for an immunization.   In other words, why should it be easier to get an exemption from a mandate than to actually follow the mandate?
Parents who feel strongly about not vaccinating should actually welcome this bill because it ensures that their freedoms are protected.  They should consider that if people continue to exempt their children as a matter of convenience than public health officials and health care providers may recognize the serious risk this presents to the community immunity that protects even the unvaccinated.  This may encourage them to suggest laws that eliminate personal exemptions all together.  (In fact, this was suggested as a future possibility in VT’s recent exemption debates.)
Sadly, many parents who completely refrain from immunizations admit that they only care about protecting their own children.  They often express a great deal of distrust towards the government and don’t typically see eye to eye with the majority of medical professionals.  But they also claim that there are plenty of medical professionals that share their opinions about immunizations.  Therefore, it shouldn’t be difficult for them to adhere to the new requirements and while it may require an extra step, it’s a small price to pay to retain their personal freedom of choice.
On the other hand, those parents who are uncertain about their decision to immunize their child or not will hopefully use this opportunity to meet with an expert who can answer their questions and help them make an informed decision that can have important implications on the health of their children.
Even though I don’t live in California, I feel that I have a vested interest in this bill – as both a parent and a citizen.  Diseases have no boundaries.  Therefore, anywhere there are growing numbers of unimmunized children is a concern to me – not just because unvaccinated children are more likely to fall ill and spread disease (even to my vaccinated children), but mainly because I care about all children – not just my own.  I don’t want to see any children suffer or die from vaccine preventable diseases.  If this bill can help prevent that from happening, without restricting someone’s freedoms and personal choice, than it seems like a win-win for all.

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