California legislature passes vaccine bill
A story in the June 2, 1919 edition of the Washington Times. Credit: Library of Congress.

California legislature passes vaccine bill

On Monday, the California State Senate gave final approval to a hotly-contested bill mandating vaccinations for all schoolchildren regardless of their parents’ personal or religious beliefs. Governor Jerry Brown now has 12 days to either sign or veto (or not sign and allow it to become law) the measure.

Passage of the legislation comes after growing public awareness of vaccination exemptions following a measles outbreak at Disneyland that began December.

inewsource reported extensively about this topic earlier in the year, when coverage of the outbreak was at its peak. Here’s a recap of our coverage, with links to data, a map and stories.

We analyzed data on local vaccination exemption rates, finding that:

  • More than 3,300 kindergarteners–nearly 8 percent of San Diego County’s kindergarten population–weren’t up to date on vaccinations. That was lower than the prior year but higher than a decade earlier.
  • Nearly half of kindergarteners who weren’t up to date had the non-medical “personal belief exemptions” target by the recently-passed bills.
  • Rates of those personal belief exemptions were higher in wealthier schools.

We also interviewed a mother who chose not to vaccinate her three-year-old daughter, telling us she was worried about her “daughter suffer[ing] from any side effects of such a sudden invasion of infectious disease that was just given to her.”

Interactive: Click here for a map of kindergarten vaccination rates in San Diego County.

In a follow-up piece, we investigated why people choose to opt out of vaccines. The answer? Vaccines have been a victim of their own success.

We interviewed a septuagenarian who recalled a months-long bout with whooping cough, knew a neighborhood boy who died of measles and had a cousin who, while afflicted with the disease, gave birth to a daughter with severe developmental disabilities. He told us that, “Any person who does not vaccinate his or her children is just engaging in child abuse.”

But his perspective was informed by his personal experiences growing up surrounded by the horrors of the diseases vaccines guard against. Today, parents simply don’t know those diseases. But there was a time when individual cases made the news. We’ve shared some of those accounts in a gallery at the end of this post.

Finally, we wrote about the role that misinformation about the safety of vaccines–readily available on the internet–has played in dissuading some parents from vaccinating their children.

As the director of a California-based vaccine advocacy group explained to us: “Parents were able to do research on things that concerned them and get more acquainted with medical information,” referring to the early days of the internet. “And they found studies that may have supported their beliefs, however incorrect that they are.”

Should Brown sign the measure, California will join Mississippi and West Virginia as the states that permit only medical exemptions as legitimate reasons to sidestep vaccinations for children attending public school.

Here’s a gallery of historical newspaper accounts of communicable diseases. Click on an image for a larger view.

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We'll let you know when big things happen.

About Joe Yerardi:

Joe Yerardi
Joe Yerardi is a freelance data journalist for inewsource, where he worked between 2013 and 2016 as an investigative reporter and data specialist. To contact him with questions, tips or corrections, email joe.yerardi@gmail.com.