Tuesday, March 20, 2012

California Assembly Working to Protect Public Health

Efforts to improve public health and revamp vaccination programs seem to be popping up all over the place, lately! First, there were the recommendations from the Alaska State Section on Epidemiology following a chicken pox outbreak at a day care, then there is the bill to eliminate philosophical exemptions from school vaccine requirements in Vermont that has passed that state's Senate and is on its way through the House and will hopefully be signed by the governor.

Actually, even before these two developments, there was last year's step towards improving public health in Washington when they passed a bill (PDF) that would require parents to speak with a physician about the benefits and risks of vaccinations before being granted a philosophical exemption from vaccine requirements.

Well, California has joined the fun.

The California state assembly is currently considering AB 2109. Like Washington, California allows medical, religious and philosophical exemptions from school vaccine requirements. Also like the Washington law, AB 2109 aims to add a requirement to the philosophical exemption that parents or emancipated minors speak to a licensed health care practitioner about the benefits and risks of a vaccine before the exemption will be granted.

Naturally, anti-vaccine activists are not happy with this. Once again, we see them erroneously claiming personal rights violations. As I mentioned when refuting the flawed logic of Vermont homeopath Charlotte Gilruth, the California bill does not take away any personal rights. Parents are still free to put their children and their communities at risk of disease outbreaks based on personal opinions rather than facts. They just aren't allowed to be quite as lazy about it any more.

I, and others, have pointed out the terrible flaws in philosophical or personal belief exemptions from vaccination requirements. These laws almost never (if they do at all) differentiate between the varying reasons parents seek them. Parents might actually have very strongly held objections to vaccines (e.g., the ideologically calcified vocal anti-vaccine activist). But they may seek out such an exemption because they simply forgot about getting their kid into the doctor's office. Or they knew they were supposed to, but just didn't care to do so. Through apathy, complacency and laziness they risk their children's health and well-being, as well as the health of their neighbors in the community. Then there are those who may not be wedded to an anti-vaccine belief, but have been lied to or misinformed by groups like Age of Autism, the National Vaccine Information Center and so on. Having a visit with a doctor who will explain to them the real benefits and risks of vaccines may be all that is needed to help them make a truly informed decision about how to manage their children's health care; the scales may fall from their eyes, as it were.

Another objection that the opponents of this bill bring up is that it puts an undue financial burden on parents. From the link above, the Canary Party asserts that:
requiring parents to seek out and pay for a consultation with a medical practitioner is an unfair and unnecessary burden to families.
This objection rings a bit hollow, especially as the legislation does not actually require that the person seeking the exemption make an appointment with and physically visit a physician. They must include with their exemption request:
A written statement signed by a health care practitioner that indicates that the health care practitioner provided the parent or guardian of the person, or the person if an emancipated minor, who is subject to the immunization requirements of this chapter with information regarding the benefits and risks of the immunization and the health risks of the communicable diseases listed in Section 120335 to the person and to the community.
The physician must provide the parent with information. Without some narrower definition or prescription of how the physician must provide the information, they would be free to give this information over the phone or by mail. In other words, parents need not be "burdened" financially.

Another ludicrous objection to AB 2109 raised by the Canary Party is that:
Many families see alternative practitioners such as Naturopaths, Homeopaths, Chiropractors and Acupuncturists, who are not permitted to sign these forms under the rules of AB2109. Thus, these parents would be required to pay to see medical practitioners that they have already chosen not to use.
If I want help with my finances, I am not going to go to the guy running Three Card Monte down the street. Just as the monte dealer is not a qualified financial analyst, naturopaths, homeopaths, chiropractors and acupuncturists are not qualified health care professionals, let alone properly educated in immunology and vaccinations. In fact, many of these "alternative" practitioners actively promote misinformation about vaccines.

The objections that I have seen so far against AB 2109 have no basis in reality, but rather stem from ideology and misinformation. I applaud the California assembly for making an effort to protect public health and strongly encourage any of my readers who are residents of California to contact their assemblymembers to support this legislation. You may also want to contact Richard Pan, who introduced the bill, to voice your support.

Liz Ditz has more on this, along with some good advice.

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