Health News

Attorneys seek to challenge California's new school vaccination law

SACRAMENTO, Calif. (Reuters) - Opponents of California’s new law tightening school vaccination rules said on Wednesday they had put together a team of attorneys to challenge the measure, which was prompted by a measles outbreak at Disneyland that sickened more than 100 people.

A measles vaccine is seen at Venice Family Clinic in Los Angeles, California February 5, 2015. REUTERS/Lucy Nicholson

The lawyers are strategizing ways to seek an injunction against the law, signed on Tuesday by Democratic Governor Jerry Brown, said Melissa Floyd, a spokeswoman for the California Coalition for Health Choice.

“The California Legislature just created a brand new group of second class citizens, innocent healthy children who will permanently be barred from schools and day care because they haven’t received all doses of the vaccines on the schedule,” Floyd said. “This is discriminatory.”

The new law eliminates exemptions from vaccine requirements based on parents’ personal beliefs, but allows unvaccinated children to attend school with medical waivers.

It prompted a vociferous response from parents who fear side effects from vaccinations, including a now-debunked theory that inoculating children against childhood diseases can lead to autism.

Democratic state Senator Richard Pan, a Sacramento pediatrician, introduced the law after last December’s Disneyland outbreak was linked to low inoculation rates. He said he expects it to stand up to any court challenge.

“The courts have clearly said there’s no right to spread a communicable disease, and that it’s within the power of the state to require vaccinations for schools,” Pan said.

California, like other states, mandated vaccinations for school children decades ago after it was shown that inoculation could prevent such childhood scourges as polio, pertussis and measles.

The state previously allowed parents to opt out based on their personal beliefs.

But in recent years so many parents have invoked the personal beliefs exemption that some schools lack the group immunity that develops only when nearly everyone is inoculated, putting at risk children with weak immune systems or who cannot be vaccinated.

The new law bars unimmunized children without medical waivers from public and private schools, though they may study in private home-schooling groups or at home.

It grants doctors leeway in issuing waivers, allowing them to consider family history among other reasons, and gives many families years to comply.

Only two other states - Mississippi and West Virginia - have eliminated religious exemptions from vaccination laws, although several do not offer broader “personal beliefs” exemptions.

Legal action by opponents will likely argue that the new law violates children’s right to education, Floyd said.

Reporting by Sharon Bernstein; Editing by Eric Beech