With the new school year in full swing across the Golden State, a lawyer for a group of families seeking an injunction against a new law mandating all K-12 students be vaccinated before heading into the classroom, said his clients children will not be able to attend public or private schools. Last year, state lawmakers passed Senate Bill 277 among impassioned debates about whether parents had the right to stop a 10-shot immunization cocktail from being administered to their children before attending school. Attorney Jim Turner said the kids of the dozen clients he represents won’t be in classrooms while their suit against Senate Bill (SB) 277 continues. “The lawsuit could carry on for a period of time,” he said to the media, “with motions and counter motion and activity.” Turner’s words came on the heels of U.S. District Court Judge Dana Sabraw's denial of a preliminary injunction against SB 277 sought by the dozen families and two foundations set on repealing the vaccine law. Sabraw wrote that California lawmakers have “a long history of requiring children to be vaccinated as a condition to school enrollment, and for as many years, both state and federal courts have upheld those requirements against constitutional challenge.” In mid-August, Sabraw heard testimony in his downtown San Diego courtroom. In their testimony, a coalition of law firms and advocacy groups focused on issues such as religious liberty, holistic health and individual choice in their challenge to the vaccine law, the main provisions of which took effect July 1.
The coalition argued the law diminishes a student’s fundamental right under the U.S. Constitution to get a classroom-based education with peers. SB 277, which came in the wake of a nationwide measles outbreak linked to guests at Disneyland in December 2014, requires the parents of kindergartners and seventh-graders to prove their children have received the government’s mandated set of vaccinations before enrolling in school.
The measure only allows doctors to grant an exemption for medical reasons. Religious and so-called “personal belief” considerations are no longer valid exemptions from being vaccinated in order to attend public or private schools and daycare facilities.
Activists across the state and around the country have mobilized against the bill for various reasons, including some who say immunization shots like those for measles, mumps and rubella—known as MMR—are a health risk to youth and can cause medical conditions such as autism. One such opponent is the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention senior scientist Dr. William Thompson, who now disavows a vaccine safety study he co-authored in 2004 because it omitted data. “The omitted data suggested that African-American males who received the MMR vaccine before they were 36-months-old were at increased risk for autism,” he said in a 2014 statement by his attorneys.
“Decisions were made regarding which findings to report after the data were collected, and I believe that the final study protocol was not followed. I want to be absolutely clear that I believe vaccines have saved and continue to save countless lives. I would never suggest that any parent avoid vaccinating children of any race.” New York attorney Kimberly Marie Mack Rosenberg, one of the four lawyers who jointly filed the suit against California, said this case presents different circumstances, arguing the state is shifting the government’s duty to provide a free and equal education to parents. She said the law paints often healthy students and their parents in a bad light because they object to vaccination due to their families’ medical history. Proponents of the law include California Department of Justice lead attorney Jonathan Rich, who argued in the San Diego hearing that the vaccine law is intended to promote the rights to an education of every child in the state so they can be educated in a healthy and safe environment. At that hearing, the state’s legal team noted several vaccination cases elsewhere in which judges have ruled that states are not obligated to extend personal-belief exemptions to families.
Superintendent of Public Instruction Tom Torlakson strongly supports vaccination, noting that “It’s the law in California, and it’s the right thing to do for public health,” in a California Department of Education press release.
“Early reports indicate school districts are doing a great job of reminding parents that they need to submit vaccination records for students entering kindergarten and seventh grade.”