San Francisco city officials announced that children under the age of five will now be required to show proof of vaccination before entering indoor public venues. The new rule is an effort to reduce the spread of preventable diseases like measles, whooping cough and chickenpox. We are committed to taking every possible action to protect our people from serious health threats, said Dr. Tomas Aragon, San Francisco’s Department of Public Health director.
The policy, which takes effect in January 2015, will require parents to submit immunization records for chi daughter became ill when she was 10 months old, butldren at the time of enrollment in child care or school. The measure is modeled after similar laws in New York City and Washington state, but goes further by applying to all indoor public places. A violation could result in fines of up to $1,000 or misdemeanor charges for the parents of unvaccinated children.
The new policy in San Francisco has sparked debate among lawmakers and residents alike with passionate responses coming from both sides of the spectrum. On one side, there are people like Rick Rollens, whose daughter is severely disabled by pertussis (better known as whooping cough). His her parents never told the doctor because they
didnt think it was a big deal. Now their daughter is severely brain-damaged and confined to a wheelchair. She has frequent seizures and has lost the ability to walk or talk. On the other side of the debate are people like Liz Ditz who, via her blog as well as a post on KQED’s Forum, has been very critical of the new policy. In addition to pointing out that even though vaccines are considered safe and effective, no medical treatment is 100 percent safe, Ditz also questions the ethics of denying parents the right to make informed decisions about their child’s health care. Additionally, Ditz states that the argument used by officials to justify the new policy, i.e., that all parents should have equal access to information about vaccines, is misguided because it implies that parents who dont vaccinate their children don’t care about their kids health.
In 2014 a total of 14 cases of measles were reported in California – compared to an average of 60 cases reported each year between 2001 and 2010. This decline in the number of measles cases may be due to parents opting not to vaccinate their children, leading California lawmakers to conclude that stricter measures need to be taken. With the new policy, San Francisco joins a list of other cities with requirements for vaccination
New York City, for example, is one of few cities in the U.S. to have a mandatory vaccination law for school-aged children. However, the state of California cannot enforce vaccines – since this would require a doctor or local health department to report parents who refuse to vaccinate their children for nonmedical reasons, something that is currently not done.
The number of children who are not vaccinated has increased in California over the past decade. While public schools require evidence of vaccination against certain diseases before students can attend, parents may opt out by filing a personal belief exemption (PBE) form. For the school year ending in 2013-14, 6.45 percent of California kindergartners had PBEs. The highest percentage was in Nevada County, where more than 11 percent of kindergartners had opted out. This compares to a Bay Area county where only 0.5 percent of kindergartners are unvaccinated due to PBEs.