One of the most contentious public health issues of the past two decades has been the alleged link between vaccines and the increase in the number of cases of autism. According to a 2014 Centers for Disease Control and Prevention— CDC — report, one in 68 children in the U.S. has an autism spectrum disorder—ASD. This is a 30 percent increase from 2012. In response to the growing number of children with ASD, the Autism Science Foundation conducted research on children who received vaccinations, those who did not and the prevalence of autism in both groups. According to the Foundation’s website, “The results of studies are very clear; the data show no relationship between vaccines and autism.”
No link, no exemptions in California and personal liberties
Despite this finding and a report in the August 2003 volume of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine – which found no connection between autism and vaccines containing the mercury-based thimerosal — individuals continue to oppose vaccinations for measles, mumps and rubella. Thimerosal was one of the vaccines most frequently cited by those linking vaccines to autism. In June 2015, California Governor Jerry Brown signed Senate Bill 277 that outlawed personal and religious beliefs as exemptions for school vaccinations. On its website, the California Coalition for Vaccine Choice, posted the following after Brown signed the legislation: “SB 277 eliminates a parent’s right to exempt their children from one, some, or all vaccines, a risk-laden medical procedure including death.”
Unvaccinated children: it is a small world after all
What began as parents looking for answers to why so many children developed Autism Spectrum Disorder has now morphed into a tug-of-war over personal liberties. The Coalition and other opposition groups feel they are being robbed of their state right to raise their children as they see fit. But California Senator Richard Pan, a pediatrician who introduced SB 277, affirmed unvaccinated children put too many at risk for the issue to be reduced to arguing about state or civil rights. In a CNN interview, Pan said, “Years of anti-science, anti-vaccine misinformation has taken its toll on immunization rates to the point that the public is now [in] danger. Children, pregnant women, seniors and people with cancer, organ transplants and other[s] are counting on us to make sure science prevails.”
In 2014, about 600 cases of measles were reported in California. 173 people developed the disease in 21 states and the District of Columbia. According to the CDC, 117 of the cases were traced to an outbreak at Disneyland. Vaccine California, a group that advocates vaccines for all children, points out on its website that unvaccinated children in public schools put the most fragile children at risk. According to Lindsay Huff, the mother of an infant who had to receive a liver transplant, speaking of parents who oppose vaccinations, “They claim a deep concern about the lack of quality education for those forced into homeschooling. But medically fragile children also have a right to quality education delivered in a safe and healthy environment.
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