California leads the country with stricter mandates on childhood vaccinations after the recent measles outbreak linked to two Disney theme parks in Orange County, Calif., Senate Bill 277 banishes parents’ personal or religious beliefs as reason to sidestep vaccinations, signed into law by California governor Jerry Brown on June 30. California schoolchildren must be fully vaccinated to attend public or private school, with only medical exemptions permitted.
Some lawmakers predict California’s actions will quickly spill over into other states to prevent likelihood of additional outbreaks. The measles outbreak spread to 147 people in the United States, with 131 in California. The scare triggered national attention of a childhood illness thought to be eradicated and raised awareness of the effects of unvaccinated children.
Although supported by several health and education associations across the state, including the American Academy of Pediatrics, California, many parents are fighting the legislation, stating it violates their parental rights. Long-term tension exists between medical standards on vaccinations and parent’s fears of their effects. Dr. Shalinee Singh, pediatrician at Ark-La-Tex Children’s Clinic in Bossier City, relays her thoughts on how she helps parents who are fearful of vaccinations. “I do see families who choose not to vaccinate their children and try to be understanding of it. Everyone has their fears. It’s my job as their pediatrician to allay those fears.”
“I remember taking my babies for their 2-month-old vaccines and I was scared as a mother,” Singh says. “I had to trust someone else with my baby. It’s scary even as a pediatrician.” But Singh goes on to explain how she helps educate parents and what they can do to alleviate some of their fears if they’re concerned about the safety of immunizations. “Don’t just Google vaccines. What is on the Internet is misleading. Those who are very passionate about vaccinations put it out there so their information comes up first and they make it look official. Read reputable sites that are more likely to give correct information such as www.cdc.gov (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) or www.aap.org (American Academy of Pediatrics).”
The measles outbreak raised concern about the importance of vaccinations but it’s easy to become complacent in the United States when we rarely see the threat of childhood illnesses. Singh reminds us, however, of their necessity. “Parents don’t understand that pediatricians have seen these illnesses.” She explains that during her training she took care of children who survived meningitis before the vaccination was available and saw first-hand the devastating long-term effects these children lived with it. “The older the pediatrician,” she says, “the more illnesses they’ve seen before vaccinations came out.”
As kids head back to school this month, parents must produce shot records for admittance. Louisiana currently allows exemptions based on medical reasons, in addition to philosophical and religious beliefs. Several states are currently considering tougher vaccination laws that would eliminate religious or philosophical exemptions. Will Louisiana be next?
Gayla Grace writes, speaks, and coaches on family and stepfamily issues and holds a master’s degree in Psychology and Counseling.